Thursday June 20, 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

Zimbabwe Faces Shortage of Antiretroviral Drugs

Chiedza Chiwashira is one the HIV-positive inmates. The 18-year-old says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the shortage of other drugs is

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zimbabwe, HIV, antiretroviral drugs
Chiedza Chiwashira, one the HIV-positive inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison hospital, in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 13, 2019, says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the 18-year-old says the shortage of drugs for opportunistic drugs is a problem. VOA

A top UNAIDS official is in Zimbabwe as the country faces a moderate shortage of the anti-retroviral drugs that stop the progress of the disease. The situation is bad for HIV-positive Zimbabweans, but worse for prisoners living with the virus who say they are struggling to get treatment for opportunistic infections.

Zimbabwe’s maximum security prison is overcrowded, officials say, and that is putting a strain on resources, including medicines for inmates who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Chiedza Chiwashira is one the HIV-positive inmates. The 18-year-old says the shortage of ARVs is not a big problem, but the shortage of other drugs is.

“Even painkillers we do not have. So if those kids, children of inmates, fall sick there is nothing to give them. Officials are saying things are tough out there so there is nothing they can do. At least we have cotrimoxazole and other ARVs. But if we fall sick it will be a problem. We appeal to those at home or those who can help us with medical drugs and antibiotics as the prison hospital has just ARVs,” Chiwashira said.

Dr. Blessing Dhorobha, the head of the Chikurubi Maximum Prison hospital, says the National Pharmaceutical Company is keeping the facility supplied with ARV drugs for now, but acknowledges other drugs are a problem.

“In terms of other opportunistic infections; pneumonia, meningitis, we are in short supply of those drugs such anti-hypertensives, anti-diabetics,” he said. “We are normally supplied by NatPharm. If they do not have stocks, then they do not deliver.”

antiretroviral drugs, zimbabwe
Shannon Hader, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, talks to senior Zimbabwe Prisons Services at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 13, 2019. VOA

Shannon Hader, the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said she came to Zimbabwe to see how it is helping vulnerable groups such as prison inmates and sex workers.

Hader says Zimbabwe has a good track record on AIDS, noting that the country introduced a tax to help patients, known as the AIDS levy, back in the 1990s.

However, “… what got us to this point in response won’t necessarily get us to the next level because what’s left to do might be more complicated than what we did first,” she said. “So I think Zimbabwe has the capacity to really accelerate, to meet the 2020 goals to be a model of the response. But that will take doubling in the next 18 months, and filling some of these gaps particularly with people that are often left behind.”

antiretroviral drugs
Raymond Yekeye, the head of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, blames the shortage of medications on Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of foreign currency. VOA

Raymond Yekeye, the head of Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Council, blames the shortage of medications on Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of foreign currency.

ALSO READ: Zimbabweans Seeking Medical Help Fall by 50 Percent With Economy, Many Turn to Herbal Treatments

“We do have the AIDS Levy and it is sufficient to cover the gap that we require. But we have not accessed the foreign currency that we require to import the medicines,” he said. The lack of foreign currency has also made the country unable to import basic needs like food and fuel.

Earlier this week, the country’s health minister said Harare has begun receiving drugs from countries such as India, which donated drugs worth $250,000. That might ease the problem of shortages for prisoners with HIV, who can’t work to buy medicine on their own. (VOA)