Scientists in the United States have found a ”functional cure” to put the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) into remission.
Using monkeys as test subjects, the scientists reported that they achieved remission in those infected with SIV, the monkey equivalent to HIV, by using a combination of a vaccine and a drug.
The scientists term it a “functional cure” because its not a cure for HIV in itself but rather gives patients years of life without having to take antiretroviral drugs.
Antiretroviral drugs do not in any way eliminate the HIV but rather just suppresses it to undetectable levels. The HIV lies dormant in the immune system cells of the carrier and will spring back up when the drugs are no longer taken.
The new functional cure works differently because of it approaches the virus with a dual combination. The drug wakes the latent virus before it is attacked by the immune system, which has been stimulated by a vaccine to target the HIV.
The director of the HIV research program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland, Nelson Micheal described their findings as a game changer in the battle against the AIDS virus.
Describing the two-year study, Micheal said he and his colleague Dan Barouch, director of vaccine research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, tested 36 rhesus monkeys.
They gave a group of the monkeys on antiretroviral drugs either a vaccine alone, an immune stimulant called TLR-7, or a combination of the two.
The monkeys that got the vaccine alone saw a tenfold drop in their viral load, while others on the TLR-7 drug saw no improvement.
”The really exciting thing is that when we combined the TLR-7 and the vaccine, then we saw, after we took the animals off of antiretroviral drugs, that the level of virus that they were replicating fell by a hundredfold. And in some of these animals it looks like we may be actually in a position where there’s not much virus left circulating at all.”
He said that although the monkeys were still infected, the virus was no longer causing any trouble because the regimen had trained the immune system to keep it at bay. Only when the virus resurfaces would it be necessary to take the drug again.
Plans for human clinical trials of the vaccine-drug functional cure combo have been scheduled for next year.