Earlier this month, a baby born with HIV was reportedly cured of the disease. Now, a similar treatment is being said to have cured 14 adults.
New Scientist reported that researchers with the Pasteur Institute in Paris evaluated HIV positive patients treated with antiretrovial drugs at a time earlier than when most patients would begin taking the medication.
The study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens states that the researchers studied 70 patients who began antiretroviral drug treatment within 10 weeks of infection. All of the patients reviewed had continued with their treatment regime for the duration of three years, on average, but had treatment interrupted and stopped for a variety of reasons. It was at this point that the researchers became interested in what happened afterward.
Although the majority relapsed and had to start treatment again, 14 patients were able to remain off the drugs. They have not relapsed in several years since and one patient has even gone a full decade without having to take the medication again so far.
These 14, like the baby who was reportedly cured earlier this month, were only “functionally cured,” meaning they still had traces of the virus inside them, but it was at a level where the body could stave it off naturally without outside treatment. Therefore, although the patients might be considered “cured,” the disease is not entirely eradicated from their bodies.
The scientists stated they are unsure exactly how or why these patients specifically were able to achieve a functional cure while others relapsed and needed treatment again. But New Scientist reported lead author Asier Sáez-Cirión with the Pasteur Institute saying that they did confirm none of the 14 patients were people naturally resistant to HIV, which is about 1 percent of the population.
“These individuals hold important clues in the search for a functional HIV cure,” the paper stated.
“Given the difficulty of eradicating HIV-1, a functional cure for HIV-infected patients appears to be a more reachable short-term goal.”
The scientists also believe this study further supports the importance of early detection as it may limit viral diversity and could protect against chronic immune activation.
“There are three benefits to early treatment,” Sáez-Cirión said, according to New Scientist. “It limits the reservoir of HIV that can persist, limits the diversity of the virus and preserves the immune response to the virus that keeps it in check.”
Dr. Andrew Freedman with Cardiff University School of Medicine told BBC that while the study poses “interesting” conclusions, how long exactly these patients will continue to keep the infection in check — whether they can go without medical treatment forever — will take much longer for health researchers to determine.
Read more specifics in the full study here.
In other HIV related news, other scientists are researching the how bee venom could actually prevent the virus. Watch this report for more on this research:
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