Can HIV be cured?

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Currently there is no known cure for HIV or AIDS, meaning that there has been no method which has been scientifically proven to eliminate the virus from a person’s body.

“Berlin Patient” Timothy Ray Brown is the first and only person to be knowingly cured of HIV. Brown already knew he had HIV and was being treated for it, when he found out in 2006 that he had acute leukaemia. After chemotherapy failed to work he went to Berlin, where he got two bone- marrow replacements from a HIV- resistant donor. Scientists scouring his blood found that the virus had dropped to undetectable levels. However, this treatment had no effect on other HIV leukaemia patients, who were not cured when the same treatment was tried with them. Not only did Brown overcome his HIV, he became free from leukaemia.

Stories emerged earlier this year of a British man becoming the world’s first person to be cured of HIV using a new treatment technique. Celebration of this may be premature, however. Even though scientists working on the therapy state that the virus is now almost undetectable in his bloodstream, it is too early to base it on purely one trial. After all, the patient in question was also taking conventional antiretroviral therapy, which reduces HIV to undetectable levels. It will be 2018 before all trials will be complete.

One of the latest techniques attempting to cure HIV is the “kick and kill” strategy in which the cells are exposed and then destroyed. Even though organisations such as the Terence Higgins Trust have cautioned against getting too excited that this suggests that there is a cure, the fact that breakthroughs are being made are a positive sign.

There is no reason to be too negative regarding a cure. Researchers at the University of Adelaide and at Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital have recently announced that progress towards creating a vaccine is on the right path. Also, a study undertaken at the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and Harvard Medical School,on rhesus monkeys, who had the monkey equivalent of HIV, was shown to be effective in supressing the virus to undetectable levels in a few of the subjects. This was done by combining a compound that stimulates a person’s immune system with a new experimental HIV vaccine.

Even though there is currently no proven cure for HIV, the amount of research done in the area suggests that there may be a breakthrough in the not- too- distant future. And that, in my opinion, is something to be positive about.