British scientists are optimistic that they might be on the way to finding a cure for HIV after a promising clinical trial, in which a test patient was shown to have no symptoms of the virus following treatment.
The Sunday Times reports that tests conducted on an HIV-positive 44-year-old man—the first of a group of 50 participating in the trial—show the virus to be absent in his system. Though it’s still early, health workers are hopeful that they’re on their way to a breakthrough. As the NIH’s Mark Samuels told the Times:
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV. 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 treatment works by combining antiretroviral drugs with one that reactivates dormant HIV, along with a vaccine that impels the immune system to destroy the infected cells, the Guardian says. It also points out that while antiretroviral drugs are very effective at subduing the disease, current medications cannot cure it. This is largely because HIV is a master of disguise:
HIV is able to hide from the immune system in dormant cells where highly sophisticated modern testing cannot find it, and therefore resist therapy. The treatment endeavours to trick the virus into emerging from its hiding places and then trigger the body’s immune system to recognise it and attack it, an approach that has been called “kick and kill”.
The research is being conducted by several of Britain’s top universities with help from the National Health Service.
There are around 36.7 million people are living with HIV worldwide, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.