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Researchers Develop ‘Functional Cure’ for HIV To Do Away With Anti-Retroviral Therapy

A new study has suggested that the combination of an experimental vaccine with an immune stimulant could help in leading to viral remission in patients with HIV. Consequently, the experimental treatment also managed to delay the viral rebound following discontinuation of anti-retroviral therapy (ART).

The research, published in the journal Nature on Nov. 9, was led by a team of scientists, both MDs and from the theoretical fields.

The purpose of the study was to find a functional cure for HIV — instead of aiming at eradicating the virus, the team wanted to control it without using the ART, according to Dan Barouch, lead author of the study.

Experimental Study Could Activate Patients' Immune System

"Current antiretroviral drugs, although they're lifesaving, do not cure HIV. They merely hold it in check. We are trying to develop strategies to achieve ART-free, long-term viral suppression," he noted.

The generic concept of vaccine involves conditioning the body into getting rid of its viral invaders, through the means of an immune response. However, in the case of HIV, this is not possible, as the immune system is the subject of the viral attack. In this case, the virus will destroy most of the infected immune cells, while it would go dormant in others.

The dormant cells are infected, and researchers believe they are a good nest for the HIV to stay hidden throughout the entire drug anti-retroviral therapy period, which is why the disease cannot be cured. Barouch and his team are trying to come up with strategies to get the virus out from the cells in order to be able to eradicate it from the patients' bodies permanently.

The mechanism of curing the disease in patients is to activate the immune cells that could be harboring the virus, in order to activate the vaccine-induced immune responses, which could finally be able to destroy the virus. The best results were observed when combining the innate immune stimulant and the vaccine, according to Barouch, who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School.

The animals that were administered the combination of the vaccine and the immune stimulant had a much better response than the animals that were given just the vaccine alone. This finding encourages the researchers to continue the research with another series of experimental methods to improve the viral load of their patients.

The preoccupation for HIV treatment has significantly increased over the last decade. One of the most groundbreaking theories discovered so far is the possibility that cancer immunotherapy should prove to be effective in treating HIV positive patients. As it turns out, the human immune system has the capacity to respond to the HIV attacks, initially at least.

HIV And Aging

These discoveries are all the more important, since people who are HIV positive have been documented to age faster; should an efficient treatment be discovered, it could improve their entire health life, not just the HIV-related aspects of it.

The reason why HIV patients age faster is that nongenetic changes take place at the cellular levels, affecting the DNA, but not its sequence; these modifications could be passed to the further cell generations, which can lead to gene expression altering. Consequently, scientific approaches have focused on using genetic editing in order to fight the disease.

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