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article imageDanish scientists: Cure for HIV could be only months away

By Stephen Morgan     Apr 27, 2013 in Health
Danish scientists, whose research is considered among the most advanced and swiftly moving in the world, believe they could be only months away from completely curing HIV.
According to the Telegraph today, Dr Ole Søgaard, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark said there are trials currently going on with fifteen patients and that if the treatment is successful, the “cure” will soon be tested on a wider scale
HIV attacks the immune system by placing the virus’s own genetic material in some cells, which are an important part of the immune system. These cells would normally produce new cells for the immune system, but because HIV has placed its genetic material into the cell, the cell will instead create new HIV virus. However, the new strategy being explored “reverses” that process and makes the invisible HIV cells visible.
The method being used by Danish scientists is a totally new approach. It removes the HIV virus from human DNA and then it is destroyed permanently by the immune system. The technique gets the HIV virus to release itself from “reservoirs” it forms in DNA cells and then, when it comes to the surface of the cell, the body's own immune system can kill it through being boosted by a “vaccine.” The cure would mean that people with HIV would not have to continue taking any HIV medication.
The Danish researchers are using an especially strong cancer drug called Panobinostat, which drives out the HIV from a patient’s DNA. Dr Ole Søgaard says he's almost certain this method will succeed, However, he adds that “the challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognize the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems.”
Business Insider says that the findings are backed up by British scientists, who are researching the same method. It reports that five universities — Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, London, University College, London and King’s College, London — have jointly formed the Collaborative HIV Eradication of Reservoirs UK Biomedical Research Centre group (CHERUB), dedicated to finding an HIV cure along the same lines.
Business Insider also quotes Dr. John Frater, a clinical research fellow at the Nuffield School of Medicine, Oxford University, and a member of the CHERUB group, who said “When the first patient is cured in this way it will be a spectacular moment.”
But this is not the only breakthrough in HIV treatment, which has come about lately, even if it is the most promising. Apart from the “Brown case” where a man was cured through a bone marrow transplant, the New York Times also reported in an article last month that a baby in Mississippi, USA, born to a mother infected with HIV, has been cured of the virus. The paper says that doctors treated the baby aggressively with anti-retroviral drugs starting around 30 hours after birth, something that is not usually done.
The article explains that typically “a newborn with an infected mother would be given one or two drugs as a prophylactic measure. But Dr. Gay said that based on her experience, she almost immediately used a three-drug regimen aimed at treatment, not prophylaxis, not even waiting for the test results confirming infection.” The baby showed no signs of infection 5 months later and also 18 months later, despite the most rigorous, invasive testing possible. Dr. Deborah Persaud, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center involved in leading the case said “It’s proof of principle that we can cure H.I.V. infection if we can replicate this case.”
In March, the Telegraph also reported another case of fourteen patients in France; who were quickly treated with antiretroviral drugs and have remained healthy for years, even after stopping treatment. Normally the virus re-attacks if medication is stopped, but it seems that these people's own bodies were controlling the HIV by themselves. But doctors stressed that this shows the need for early diagnosis and treatment, which rarely occurs.
What is even more promising about the new Danish trials is that it would not be expensive, which is a stumbling block with other approaches. The Danish scientists have stated confidently that they believe “finding a mass-distributable and affordable cure to HIV is possible,” although it still may take up to 5 years for mass production.
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