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| June 24, 2017

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HIV Cure in the Works

HIV Cure in the Works
Charles Chong

Danish researchers are on the cusp of a major breakthrough in “finding a mass-distributable and affordable cure to HIV”.  These researchers are currently in the midst of human trials after a wildly successful run with in vitro studies using human cells.  Hopes are high that they will find a cure for HIV within the next five years or so.

Previously, finding a cure for HIV has had multiple obstacles in the way, one of which is finding a way to destroy the reservoirs of HIV DNA stored in a patient’s cells.  Current drugs are able to destroy the HIV particles in the bloodstream, but there is nothing that can be done to rid the body of the reservoirs.  And due to these reservoirs, if the HIV medication is stopped at any point, the HIV virus will rebound, and symptoms will begin to appear again after only two weeks.  In short, current medication requires a lifetime of treatment, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a single patient.

The new treatment proposed by the Danish researchers attacks the dormant HIV DNA within in the infected cells using a drug currently used in cancer patients.  The drug, a HDAC inhibitor called Panobinostat, is a powerful drug that inhibits histone deacetylase, which is used to regulate gene expression.  To simplify, this drug causes the expression of certain genes in a cell, which will then eventually lead to cell suicide, differentiation, or cell cycle arrest (i.e. the cell will stop replicating itself).  Then the patient’s own immune system will take over and kill the infected cells.  This effectively causes any latent HIV DNA in a patient to become active again, which is then killed by either the immune system or cell suicide.

There are currently 15 HIV positive patients in the first round of clinical trials.  The current focus is to treat patients who have only recently contracted HIV because these patients will not have the large viral loads as those patients who have had HIV for years.  If this trial proves successful, then there will be another clinical trial on a wider scale.  Then after that, there will likely be another trial with patients who have had HIV for many years.  Assuming the continuous success of this novel treatment strategy, the first cure for HIV should be available in only 5 years.

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