At a recent international AIDS conference, many reports were presented which might raise hopes that there could be a cure to the HIV-1 infection. Two major reports, however, make it clear that the cure for HIV is still elusive, and that researchers may need to start back at the drawing boards.
In the first report, two men given bone marrow transplants as a treatment for cancer appear to be free of the HIV-1 virus, according to the researchers at St. Vincent’s Hospital and the Kirby Institute in Sydney, Australia. In the U.S. two men with the HIV-1 virus, received bone marrow transplants, also to treat cancer. They were reported cured, but inevitably the virus returned. Dr.David Kunizkes,of Brigham and Womans Hospital in Boston, treated these two men. He stated, while adding that he is looking for patients, “It’s not a reason to give up research on a cure,”
In the second report, Canadian researchers have reported on five babies infected with the disease from birth at Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. Four of the five babies are still free of the virus. One is currently eight years old. All of the uninfected babies are still taking the HIV-1 drug. The fifth child was taken off the drugs and the virus subsequently came back. Dr. Ari Bitnum, doctor who treated those babies, stated: “It may be that it will work for some babies and it wont work for others.”
Recent U.S. researchers have shot down many of the other reports, stating that the patients wont be virus free for very long. Critical comments point toward the HIV treatment being more of a disguise, rather than the elusive cure. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated: “those Australian patients are still in HIV-1 drug therapy, the drugs may be suppressing the virus, but because you can’t find them does not mean they are not there.”
HIV-1, known as human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, can insinuate itself into the human immune system. The immune system creates the cells which fight against viruses inside the body. Unfortunately HIV-1 will attach itself to these very cells and make it very difficult to fight. The HIV-1 virus attacks a good cell and rapidly makes it replicate several bad cells before the host dies. Currently scientists have invented over two dozen different HIV-1 drugs to aid in slower growth of the virus. These drugs also minimize the cells to become undetectable. unfortunately, patients taking these cocktails often become undetectable, though the virus still exists. If they stop taking the drug, the virus will return after a period of time.In Mississippi, a baby who was infected at birth was treated with a high dose of HIV-1 medication right away. Though initially thought cured, doctors recently reported that the virus has returned four years later.
The one and only person who is documented to have been “cured” from HIV-1 is Timothy Brown, also known as the “Berlin Patient.” Brown was treated for leukemia with a bone marrow transplant. The donor happened to have a rare genetic mutation that makes immune cells resist the HIV-1 virus. In this transplant, it replaced Timothy’s infected cells with the AIDS resistant cells. He has been virus free for over five years to date.
A team at Temple University School of Medicine has given some hope for curing the HIV-1 virus. This team has developed a way to cut out the HIV-1 virus from the immune cell it infects. They have, however, only performed this in lab dishes, which is a far cry from any human or animal. There are many who feel that their method is a large step forward toward finding a cure. They reported their findings to the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Kamei Khalili, chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Temple stated: “This is one important step on the path toward the permanent cure for AIDS,” She also stated: “We want to eradicate every single copy of HIV-1 from the patient. That will cure AIDS. I think this technology is the way we can do it.”
Researchers also speaking at the AIDS meeting in Melbourne tried to mitigate still over-optimistic time frame expectations for the elusive HIV-1 cure. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the expert credited with the discovery of HIV-1, stated: “I don’t know how long it will take to get a cure.” Dr. Steven Deeks, of University of California, San Fransisco, stated: “My personal opinion is that if possible, we can do it, but its going to take a very long time.”
By: J. Dylan Halen