Study Suggests Early Treatment Could Functionally Cure Some HIV Patients
March 16, 2013

Study Suggests Early Treatment Could Functionally Cure Some HIV Patients

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Administering early treatment shortly after HIV infection could lead to a so-called functional cure in approximately one out of every 10 patients infected with the virus that causes AIDS, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Lead researcher Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Institut Pasteur in Paris and colleagues discovered that 14 patients who were treated within the first two months following infection were eventually able to stop combination antiretroviral therapy without the virus rebounding, explained MedPage Today North American Correspondent Michael Smith.

The 33- to 66-year-old French patients involved in the study, who were identified by BBC News Health and Science Reporter James Gallagher as the Visconti cohort, all started their treatments within ten weeks of being infected.

They remained on the medication, which helps keep the virus at bay but cannot eliminate it, for an average of three years before stopping treatment. Normally, the virus rebounds, but not in the case of the Visconti patients, some of whom have been able to control their HIV levels for a decade, Gallagher said.

While all 14 patients technically still have HIV, in most cases the virus is undetectable without the use of ultrasensitive laboratory equipment, the researchers report. Saez-Cirion told the BBC the treatment will not be able to control the infection in most patients, but that between five and 15 percent of them will be functionally cured. Essentially, that means that the infection will go into a sort of remission.

“The finding follows recent reports that a baby girl born with HIV in Mississippi in the United States has been cured after receiving standard drug therapy,” Sam Marsden of The Telegraph said on Friday.

He added that scientists have said that there are “intriguing parallels” between the new study and the curious case of a Mississippi baby that was said to be functionally cured of the disease at the age of 23 months. However, those experts also warned that the phenomenon “was rare and warned that most people with HIV would develop full-blown AIDS if they stopped taking medication.”

“These individuals reflect what a functional cure may represent because they have been actually controlling the infection for many years now,” Saez-Cirion told the AFP news agency, according to Marsden. “I think this is proof of concept that this may be achieved in individuals. And that this happened thanks to early treatment onset.”

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a lentivirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) — a condition in which a person´s immune system begins to fail. AIDS can lead to life-threatening opportunistic infections transferred through bodily fluids, often through unprotected sex, sex, contaminated needles, breast milk, and transmission from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

Blood screens have largely eliminated transmission through blood transfusions and infected blood products in the developed world. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) considered HIV infection to be a pandemic. From its discovery in 1981 through 2006, AIDS has killed over 25 million people and has infected approximately 0.6 percent of the world´s population.