Sunday March 24, 2019

Cure for AIDS? Scientists in US Achieve ‘Functional Cure’ for HIV in Monkey Model

Researchers are now planning human clinical trials of the vaccine-drug cocktail to begin next year

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FILE - A doctor draws blood from a man to check for HIV/AIDS. VOA

November 10, 2016: U.S. scientists have devised a way to put the virus that causes AIDS into remission. It’s not a cure per se, but could someday offer HIV patients years of life without drugs.

Scientists are calling it a “functional cure.” An experimental treatment regimen is being developed that could offer HIV-positive people something similar to a cure, so they wouldn’t have to take antiretroviral drugs every day to manage their disease.

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In the journal Nature, scientists are reporting that they’ve achieved remission in primates infected with SIV, a monkey version of HIV, by using a combination of a vaccine and a drug.

Waking a sleeping virus

An HIV-positive person who takes antiretroviral drugs is simply suppressing the AIDS virus to undetectable levels. But the virus is not really gone. It is lying dormant in immune system cells, ready to spring to life the moment someone stops taking the medication.

The new approach uses a drug to wake the latent virus. Then, in a one-two punch, the virus is attacked by the immune system, which has been stimulated by a vaccine to target the HIV.

Nelson Michael, who directs the HIV research program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, sees such a “functional cure” as a game-changer in the battle against the AIDS virus.

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“This is where we’re beginning to edge into that space,” he said. “And we’re basically developing the rationale that we can actually envision a day that that will be what happens — that someone would not have to take drugs every day, because those things that we could do would buy them a lot of time where they wouldn’t have to take drugs. That’s really the story.”

In a two-year study, Michael and his colleague Dan Barouch, director of vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, gave a group of 36 rhesus monkeys on antiretroviral drugs either a vaccine alone, an immune stimulant called TLR-7, or a combination of the two agents.

The monkeys that got the vaccine alone saw a tenfold drop in their viral load, while Michael said the animals on the TLR-7 drug saw no improvement.

Combination’s effect

“The really exciting thing is that when we combined the TLR-7 and the vaccine, then we saw, after we took the animals off of antiretroviral drugs, that the level of virus that they were replicating fell by a hundredfold. And in some of these animals it looks like we may be actually in a position where there’s not much virus left circulating at all,” said Michael.

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He stressed that the monkeys were still infected, but that the virus was no longer causing any trouble because the regimen had trained the immune system to keep it at bay.

Michael envisions a “drug holiday” for patients where they go for years without needing antiretroviral drugs unless the virus resurfaces.

Researchers are now planning human clinical trials of the vaccine-drug cocktail to begin next year. (VOA)

  • Ruchika Kumari

    Such a good news……hope this gonna work on humans too

  • Antara

    Fantastic news! Another medical achievement!

  • Diksha Arya

    Great news… maybe the cure would work on humans too..

Next Story

Stem Cell Transplant Shows Promise For AIDS Treatment: Study

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people

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School girls light candles in the shape of a ribbon during a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign ahead of World Aids Day, in Ahmedabad, India, Nov. 30, 2016. (VOA)

Although the news of a second person being cured of HIV through stem cell transplant is exciting and may pave the way for future treatments, experts say the treatment may not work in case of all patients infected with the AIDS causing virus.

“The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, reducing its ability to fight diseases or infections,” Girish Badarkhe, Haematologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, told IANS.

“The stem cell transplant primarily involves reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. But there a small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations known as CCR5-delta 32,” he stressed.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, a man in London, who prefers to remain anonymous, was treated with stem cell transplants from donors with CCR5-delta 32 mutation. It made him resistant to HIV, just like the first cured case of Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the “Berlin patient”, a decade ago.

The London man was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and was put on anti-retroviral therapy in 2012. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the immune system.

After undergoing chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and also continued with anti-retroviral drugs for 16 months.

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Scientists have been searching for a cure for HIV/AIDS for close to 40 years. The director of UNAIDS called news that a man in London has been functionally cured of HIV a “breakthrough.” VOA

He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.

“While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system,” Badarkhe said.

“Stem cell transplants are an established treatment, particularly for blood related cancer with 70 per cent success rate. “In this case, he got cured both from cancer as well as the AIDS,” Badarkhe said.

Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV in 2017. With an HIV prevalence of 0.26 per cent in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people with HIV, shows UNAIDS data.

Also Read- Inheritance Not About Money, Legacy But Values, Says Sonam Kapoor

“Besides, the stem cell therapy is also linked to increased death risks and is also not cost-friendly,” Badarkhe said.

However, experts are enthusiastic about the promise that the cure of the London patient showed.

“It is a positive news. But there is a need for more scientific facts and evidence to be established,” V. Sam Prasad, Country Programme Director at AIDS Healthcare Foundation India, told IANS.

The doctors stressed the need for proper guidelines around the new treatment, which, if proved successful in more cases, could change lives of millions of people. (IANS)