Monday, October 5, 2009

Curing HIV: Who will get there first?

The momentum is building. I cannot recall a time, since being diagnosed with HIV thirteen-years-ago, where there have were so many researchers exploring so many different avenues toward not only treating HIV, but most importantly, curing HIV.

Some promising breakthroughs currently under investigation include a scientifically engineered enzyme that attacks HIV’s DNA, literally cutting it out of the infected cells and rendering HIV harmless. 

There's also a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina and Merck currently on the forefront of identifying some promising new agents called HDAC Inhibitors. These innovative agents are said to be capable of purging HIV from resting CD4 cells; a key requirement, many researcher’s believe, for any prospect of curing someone of HIV infection. 

As exciting as all this seems, perhaps most promising of all was the news of the 42- year-old (HIV-positive) American, living in Berlin, who has had no viral rebound since receiving a bone marrow transplant to cure his cancer. Gene therapy has in fact cured this one man of the HIV virus. Researchers have discovered that a small percentage, around three percent, of Europeans have a what they call a natural resistance to HIV-infection due to a faulty gene. These fortunate few lack the CCR-5 receptor that HIV uses to gain entry into cells. When the HIV positive American living in Berlin came to Dr. Hutter in need of treatment for his leukemia the doctor had the insight to use a bone marrow donor who lacked these CCR-5 receptors. It was a hunch on his part. And it worked! Not only was the American cured of his cancer, but in depth testing has been unable to detect the HIV virus in tissue and blood samples over two years later. Full details were published last February in The New England Journal of Medicine. 

Although this may not be a cure that could readily be used on the general population of positives, it certainly opens the flood-gates for further studies into new and innovative ways to use gene therapy to treat, and yes, I'll say it, CURE HIV. 

So, you see... The momentum is building. Can you feel it, too?  We are going to find a viable cure for HIV. It's just a matter of time. How much time? It could be closer than we think. One thing's for certain–It will be interesting to see just who gets there first.  

Currently, anti-retroviral drugs have  significantly helped to increase the quality of life for patients, but taking the highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) leads to HIV resistance and adaptation, not to mention the significant side-effects that are also linked to anti-viral therapy.   

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Mary said...

Suzan - this is so amazing! Thank you for sharing this. Our little guy starting ARV's last week and while we are so happy that he is home and on the medication he needs, it is sad to look at the pile of pills and hope and pray against side effects and resistance.

PositivelyOrphaned said...

Thank you SO much for your take on a cure. I'm getting excited for the first time ever. Thanks for keeping us all educated on the latest HIV research news.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your optimism. The myriad of approaches being tested and carried out today whether it be the various gene therapy methods, stem cell modification, Rnai, eradication of viral reservoirs such as the approach being undertaken at UNC you mentioned or Dr. Siliciano's work at John Hopkins, all are highly encouraging.

Anonymous said...

great article! you hit the bullseye right in its target !!