A 44 year-old British man has appeared to be completely free of HIV following a new treatment which has been labelled ‘kick and kill’ to eradicate the virus. Of 50 patients currently taking part in the trial for this new HIV treatment, this man who has remained anonymous, is the first to show remarkable progress – with no signs of the virus in his blood. The trail is being carried out by researchers from five of Britain’s top universities, in collaboration with the UK’s National Health Service.
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” said Mark Samuels, Managing Director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, in a statement at the Sunday Times. “We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
Although the results for now are very promising, researchers are skeptical whether the treatment has permanently rooted out the virus from the blood as there has been a case of virus re-emerging in people thought to have been cured. Nevertheless, the team thinks they could be on the brink of defeating HIV for real.
HIV is very difficult to treat because it can hide from the immune system in dormant cells. But, this new pioneering treatment aims to trick the virus into emerging from its hiding places and then trigger the body’s immune system to recognize it and attack it. First, they use antiretroviral drugs to prevent T-cells from making millions more copies of the virus. Next, they infect the patients with a virus that enhances the ability of the immune system to detect and destroy the infected T-cells. And lastly, they gave the patient a drug known as vorinostat that activates the dormant T-cells, so the immune system can destroy them.
Researchers call this technique “kick and kill” strategy, as it first aims to expose the virus and then destroy it later.
“It would be great if a cure has happened,” the 44-year-old man told The Sunday Times. “My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus. However, that could be the anti-retroviral therapies, so we have to wait to be sure.”
Timothy Ray Brown is the only person known to have been cured of HIV/AIDS. In 2007, he received bone marrow transplant from a donor who was immune to HIV. The stem cells he was transplanted with rebuilt his immune system, eliminating both the HIV and his acute myeloid leukaemia. Three years later after the surgery, doctors found no trace of the virus in his blood despite not taking anti-retroviral drugs.
Approximately 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide. If researchers find no traces of HIV left in this 44 year-old man’s blood in the coming tests, it would mean they have found the official cure for HIV.