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A Major Discovery About HIV Provides Hope For A Cure

"This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV”

On Monday, The Sunday Times reported a 44-year-old British man had been cured of HIV after receiving a prototype therapy that is still being developed.

A team of British scientists from five different universities developed a vaccine and new drug therapy that seeks out HIV-infected cells, both active and dormant, and clears them out. The news, however, may be premature, as patients undergoing the therapy are already taking antiretroviral drugs, which already reduce the viral load to undetectable levels. That said, the research is an important attempt at a full cure. The results are expected in 2018 after a full analysis of the clinical data.

"This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” Mark Samuels, managing director at the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, told The Telegraph adding, “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."

The RIVER study, which stands for Research in Viral Eradication of HIV Reservoirs, is two-step therapy that is an attempt to completely rid the body of the virus.

Current antiretroviral therapy can reduce the viral load dramatically, but requires lifetime drug therapy to ensure the virus does not return. Progress against HIV/AIDS has been huge, but the search for a cure continues.

Nearly 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide, with just over 1 million people in the United States. Most new cases of HIV occur in sub-Sarahan Africa. It is estimated that 1.3 million cases were added there in 2015 to the already approximately 25 million cases.

Only one person has ever been cured of HIV. An American man, Timothy Ray Brown, received a stem cell transplant from a patient with natural immunity to HIV in 2007. Brown’s case was special because, at the time, he was undergoing treatment for leukemia, which requires a bone marrow transplant and, essentially, a rebuilding of the immune system from scratch. Perhaps with this research, more and more people will be joining Brown on the cured list.

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