British researchers think they may have found a cure for HIV, although they warn that it is still too early to tell for sure.
After a clinical drug trial that combined traditional drug treatments with a new medication that reactivates dormant HIV cells, allowing the body to learn how to attack the virus successfully, one patient has no sign of the virus left in his system. The 44 year old social worker from London is the first patient to complete the therapy.
“It would be great if a cure has happened. My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus,” the man told the London Times. “It could be the anti-retroviral therapies, so we have to wait to be sure.”
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” Mark Samuels, managing director of the British National Institute for Health. “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.”
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Professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College London, explained, “This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones. It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy.
“We will continue with medical tests for the next five years and at the moment we are not recommending stopping [anti-retroviral therapies] but in the future depending on the test results we may explore this.”
“I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself. It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease,” the patient told the Times. “The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible.”
Only one person in the world has been cured of HIV. Timothy Ray Brownn underwent a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia in 2007; his donor had a rare gene mutation known as CCR5, which makes human cells immune to HIV. Scientists acknowledged the cure officially in 2011.