HIV Researchers Say British Man May Have Been Cured

Researchers from five of Britain’s top universities working on a cure for HIV have reported a possible “breakthrough.” This was reported after one of their test subjects showed no signs of the virus within their system. The research itself combines antiretoviral drugs with a drug that reactivates dormant HIV cells that are hiding within the patient’s immune system, allowing the body to learn how to attack the virus successfully. This approach has been dubbed “kick and kill.”

Antiretoviral drugs by themselves stop the virus from reproducing, but unfortunately do not eradicate the virus entirely. Because of this, patients have to take antiretoviral drugs their entire lives. Researchers hope to clear the virus from patients’ systems so that they no longer have to take antiretoviral drugs.

“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” Mark Samuels, managing director of the British National Institute for Health, told the Sunday Times. “We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”

The patient, a 44-year-old social worker from London, was the first among 50 others to complete the therapy. “It would be great if a cure has happened. My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus,” the patient told the London Times. “It could be the antiretroviral therapies, so we have to wait to be sure.” The absence of the HIV virus within the patient could just be the antiretroviral drugs due to the fact that the virus remains dormant in immune cells while patients continue their treatment. Making it very hard for modern technology to find traces of it when testing patients.

“I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself. It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease,” the man told the London Times. “The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible.”

So far, only 39 out of the 50 patients have been chosen for the trial, the rest continue to take antiretoviral therapy. Chosen patients will also receive two vaccines which aim to boost the immune system so that it can attack HIV-infected cells. Researchers hope to find the cure for HIV within the next six years, but warn that it may take longer.

There has only been one person who has ever been fully cured of HIV. Timothy Ray Brown, an American man who went to Britain for treatment for Leukemia. Brown received a bone marrow transplant to rewrite his immune system from a donor who was naturally immune to the HIV virus. The donor’s immunity was caused by a gene mutation called CCR5 which was passed on to Brown. Although this method has been proven to cure the virus, it is not recommended due to the procedure’s difficulty and potential of killing the patient. The procedure is only used if it will save the patient’s life.

    Dr. Michael Brady, medical director Terrence Higgins Trust told medical correspondent for BBC Fergus Walsh, “In test tubes it has been shown that you can drive the virus out of dormant cells, but we will have to wait and see whether it works in patients. Even if it works we can’t talk about a cure for everyone and there would need to be bigger trials.”