HIV breakthrough as 14 adults are 'functionally cured' of the virus

Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of HIV? The disease that tore three generations apart in Africa and slaughtered millions upon millions. The disease that revolutionised sexual practice worldwide as contraception became a life or death issue.

Hot on the heels of the recent news that a baby had been "functionally cured" of HIV come the results of a revealing new study that has seen fourteen adults also “functionally cured”

The fourteen saw their viral load effectively disappear after they were given combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) for their HIV infection. They have been able to stop taking the treatment while still keeping their infection under control, according to a new study in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

"Our results show that early and prolonged cART may allow some individuals with a rather unfavorable background to achieve long-term infection control and may have important implications in the search for a functional HIV cure," the researchers, from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, wrote in the study.

Now you may have noticed the very caveated use of the phrase ‘functionally cured’. The reality is that the 14 adults do still have traces of HIV in their bodies. However – these amounts can only be detected through highly sensitive laboratory methods rather than standard testing, so ‘functionally cured’ means that the virus has been completely controlled without being completely eradicated from the body.

The New Scientist reported that there were 70 people in the study, all of whom had been treated with anti retrovirals within 5 and 10 weeks of being infected, but whose drug treatment programmes had been interrupted.

Most of the 70 people relapsed when they stopped taking the anti retrovirals, with the virus spreading once more to pre-treatment levels. But 14 of them -- four women and 10 men -- were able to stay off of ARVs without any spike in their viral load after an average of three years on the drugs.

The findings suggest that anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of people are able to be "functionally cured" of HIV, the study researcher, Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion, told BBC News.

While this is by no means a full blown cure, medical opinion is still divided over the implications, and doctors warn that coming off anti retrovirals is an ill advised gamble, there can be no doubt that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.

Written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr - Google+ Profile - More articles by Cyrus Bozorgmehr

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