Explosion of HIV treatment possibilities

Josh Meronek, Staff Reporter

In the past month there has been an explosion of HIV treatment success, resulting in a total of 15 people being effectively able to control this debilitating virus. While the disease is not completely removed from the body, it is diminished to such a point that it is effectively considered “cured.”

This marks one of the first possibilities of ending the virus and gives hope to the more than 33 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world.

The first major breakthrough came from a small toddler in the state of Mississippi, the first person to be cured of HIV in the United States. This child was born with HIV, but underwent treatment through the use of antiretroviral drugs shortly after birth.

The mother of the child did not know that she was positive for the virus until hours before the birth of her child.

Through the use of multiple antiretroviral drug injections, sometimes referred to as a “drug cocktail,” within the first day and a half of her delivery the virus was greatly diminished. While the virus is still present in the two-year old girl’s body, it is in such a weakened state that it is not detectable by most testing measures.

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, a researcher at UMASS, told CNN in an interview, “This is the very first case in which we’ve conclusively been able to document that the baby was infected and then after a period of treatment has been able to go off treatment without viral rebound.”

Following in the steps of this great development, researchers in Paris published a journal citing the remission of HIV in 14 patients also through the use of antiretroviral drugs. In this study the patients were treated with these drugs within 10 weeks of contracting the virus and saw an overall success rate of around 15 percent.

The lead researcher of this study, Asier Saez-Cirion, said, “You haven’t eradicated the virus, but interestingly, when you stop therapy, even though the virus is still there and you can measure it, it doesn’t come back with a vengeance and cause disease in the person.”

While these two studies are groundbreaking, there is more work to be done before a true cure can be found. Although these findings do give hope, the studies are too small to be hailed as a fix all solution. The simple fact is that both of these studies relied upon early diagnosis and accessibility of these drugs.

The use of antiretroviral drugs has become a staple of HIV/AIDs medication, but this term is very broad and deals with a wide spectrum of drugs that are used in combination to combat the virus as they weaken the virus’ ability to mass produce and overwhelm the body’s immune system.

Unfortunately, these drugs are not a viable solution for every person suffering from HIV as the medications are expensive and must be taken continually.

The areas that are most impacted by HIVs and AIDs tend to be third world countries. Medical developments do not present immediate solutions to the epidemics in their countries because they simply do not have the economic ability to afford these drugs for those infected.

Prevention will still be the main strategy in combating HIVs and AIDs, but for the first time in years, there is a movement of hope for people struggling with this debilitating disease for 15 individuals’ have been “cured” as of this time.

This is a major development in combating one of the most destructive problems facing humanity right now; it inspires millions worldwide whom maybe one day can look back on the HIV/AIDs epidemic as we look at polio—eradicated.

Both studies can be found at www.retroconference.org/2013b/Abstracts/47897.htm and www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2F