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More Near-Cures for HIV

Early treatment may be key to a drug-free life for a small percentage of patients.

Last week, scientists reported that a baby had been “functionally cured” of HIV (see “A Toddler May Have Been Cured of HIV Infection”). Now, other researchers report in PLoS Pathogens that 14 HIV-infected adults—four women and 10 men—have survived with the virus in check even though they have stopped taking their antiretroviral medications.  

The authors write that while combined antiretroviral drugs reduce HIV-associated illness and death, they cannot cure the infection. The 14 patients in the study are functionally cured, meaning they are not completely rid of the virus—although they have no symptoms, very low levels of HIV can still be detected in their blood.  “Given the difficulty of eradicating [HIV], a functional cure for HIV-infected patients appears to be a more reachable short-term goal,” they write.

But bear in mind that the 14 adults who were functionally cured were part of a larger study of 70 people who had gone off of their antiretroviral drugs. The majority of the group relapsed when their treatment stopped. The key now is to find out what makes the 14 adults different. They did not carry known protective genetic variants and actually had more severe infections and more symptoms before starting treatment. This sensitivity may have helped by prompting the patients to seek treatment sooner than most people, write the researchers who conclude that:

“These findings argue in favor of early [combined antiretroviral therapy] initiation and open up new therapeutic perspectives for HIV-1-infected patients.”

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