Billions of pounds have been invested into HIV research around the world and a breakthrough has been made – HIV antibodies have successfully been combined, potentially paving the way for a cure to the infection being found,
In the UK, HIV affects over 100,000 people, around 0.16% of the population, although, worryingly, more than one in ten are unaware of the infection. Although awareness campaigns have led to the number of HIV diagnoses declining since the beginning of the century, thousands still find out they have the infection each year. Improved awareness and better diagnostics mean fewer people are being diagnosed late, which is significantly cutting the number of deaths within the first year diagnosis. Treatment too has rapidly improved – in 2015, less than 1% of people living with a diagnosed HIV infection in the UK died.
Despite this, an HIV cure has yet to be discovered but the latest advancement suggests it may only be a matter of time.
An experimental HIV antibody currently being trialled has successfully suppressed the virus for six months without the need for further treatment. It’s believed the therapy targeted long-lived cells that are affected by the virus, leading to the illness being suppressed. The study, which was conducted by the Beth Israel Medical Centre, the teaching hospital for Harvard Medical, is still in the early stages but its findings are promising. The research suggests that there is an effective way to not only treat HIV but provide protection against the virus too.
The data gathered as part of the study, indicate that focuses on activating and eliminating a fraction of the viral reservoir could be a key area to focus investment and resources in the fight against HIV.
For now, it’s hoped that the antibody drug could lead to an effective vaccine or treatment for those infected but it’s pushing the boundaries of HIV treatment. The US team isn’t the only research team that’s racing towards a cure either, it’s high on the agenda of many other researchers, including some based in Europe, signalling that a vaccine and cure are within grasp.
The latest research covering HIV demonstrates how rapidly medical advancements are progressing. Just forty years ago, HIV was considered a death sentence. Today, it can be effectively diagnosed and managed to allow patient to live long, full lives in spite of the virus.