A 44-year-old British man is the first of 50 people to complete a trial of a treatment which scientists say eradicates HIV cells in the entire body––including dormant cells which evade current HIV treatments.
Doctors declined to identify the patient, who is a social care worker in London. “It would be great if a cure has happened. My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus. I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself,” he said. “It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease. The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible.”
Researchers from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London report that the virus is now completely undetectable in his blood, though they admit this could be a result of regular drugs. If dormant cells relay the same result, the trial could represent the first HIV cure.
Current anti-retroviral [Art] therapies target HIV as it attacks the immune system by replicating itself into the DNA of T-cells so that these cells both ignore the disease and reproduce the virus. However, these therapies cannot target dormant infected T-cells. The new therapy works in two stages: First, a vaccine is administered to help the body clear out cells infected with HIV. Then, a drug called Vorinostat activates dormant T-cells. The method could provide the immune system with the tools it needs to recognize and fight the infection.
“This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones,” said Professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College London. “It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy. We will continue with medical tests for the next five years and at the moment we are not recommending stopping Art but in the future depending on the test results we may explore this.”
Professor Fidler cautioned that it will be several years before researchers complete their study. “We will continue with medical tests for the next five years and at the moment we are not recommending stopping Art but in the future, depending on the test results we may explore this,” she said.
Ian Green, chief executive of the HIV/AIDS charity Terrence Higgins Trust, echoed Professor Fidler’s statement. “There is still no cure for HIV and we welcome this ambitious study which looks to eradicate the virus completely from the bodies of people living with HIV, instead of suppressing it.”
More than 37 million people live with HIV worldwide. There are more than 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK alone, though researchers estimate that 1 in 5 people do not know they have the virus. Only one individual, American Timothy Ray Brown, who researchers call “the Berlin Patient,” has been “functionally cured” of HIV since receiving a stem cell transplant from a donor naturally resistant to the virus.