Could 2014 Be the Year of a Cure for HIV?
The world has been struggling to deal with HIV and AIDS for almost 70 years, and a reliable cure hasn’t been found simply because the disease mutates too quickly. A rollercoaster ride of believing a cure had been reached last year, only to find the two patients had relapsed, may not have been in vain, for there are several projects around the world that could prove that 2014 is the year HIV is cured.
Timothy Brown is the only person in the world thought to have been ‘cured’ of HIV. Suffering from leukemia, Mr Brown received a bone-marrow transplant in Berlin in 2007 and has since lived free of detectable levels of HIV in his bloodstream. The donor involved in Mr Brown’s transplant carried a rare genetic anomaly known to interrupt HIV’s ability to infect white blood cells.
Unfortunately, while it may seem that a cure is right at hand via this donor, scientists think it is far too dangerous for every person carrying HIV or AIDs to undergo the transplant, but the results have focused attention on a similar genetic mutation as a target for possible gene therapy.
A company in the US has also been progressing towards a vaccine for HIV. Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc specialises in creating medicines for various diseases and conditions, and is currently trialling three potential vaccines for HIV. Although all three vaccine trials are still in the early stages, it is believed that Inovio’s method of using synthetic DNA to stimulate an immune system response could be a promising new approach to treating HIV. One exciting aspect of these trials is that the vaccines are being tested as both preventative and therapeutic vaccines, meaning they could be used to treat infected and non-infected patients.
Finally, the latest news of a potential HIV cure comes from a team of scientists in Germany. Researchers from Dresden Technical University and the Heinrich Pette Institute in Hamburg have succeeded in removing HIV from infected cells, leaving the cells alive and well.
The scientists have created an enzyme that can recognise the virus and eliminate it with 90% accuracy. The enzyme, which is sometimes called “molecular scissors”, effectively cuts the virus from the DNA of infected cells.
During treatment, blood would be taken from an infected patient, and be transfused back into the body after being treated with the enzyme. The enzyme targets the infected cells, alters the DNA, and it is thought that when the blood is reintroduced into the body the cells would reproduce and ‘cut’ the virus from other infected cells.
Head of the antiviral strategy at Hamburg, Professor Joachim Hauber, said that these results were seen in the treated mice. “The amount of virus was clearly reduced,” he said, “and even no longer to be found in the blood.” The professor explained that the procedure is unique in that it is the only one so far able to reverse an HIV infection, with only healthy cells left behind. However, it is understood that if a cure can be derived from this process, it could be almost a decade away, though many medical professionals are quietly confident it will happen.