A 44-year-old man in England is being celebrated as the first person to actually be cured of HIV. Doctors and Scientists working on an experimental therapy believe the virus is not just in remission, but is gone from the man’s system.
If their findings are accurate, as is believed, this would mark a major breakthrough. It would also mark a milestone for modern-medicine. What was thought, 20 years ago even, to be a death sentence can now be cured.
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The team responsible comes from five UK universities. Together, they’re studying 50 patients. Spokesman Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, told The Sunday Times, “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 current antiretroviral therapy takes aim at active T-cells infected with HIV. That helps with longevity by keeping the virus in check, but the treatments can’t do anything about the T-cells that are dormant in the body. So the patient remains contagious, and the virus is always there.
“This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones,” Professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College London, said.
The experimental treatment combines a vaccine that targets all HIV infected cells with a drug called Vorinostat. The trick is that Vorinostat activates the dormant T-cells that used to escape antiretroviral therapy. So it lights up all of the HIV cells and then kills them.
The patient that received the treatment is a social worker from London. While he’s understandably excited about the news that he’s cured, he remains cautiously guarded. “It would be great if a cure has happened,” he said. “My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus.”
“We will continue with medical tests for the next five years,” Professor Fidler says, “and at the moment we are not recommending stopping Art but in the future, depending on the test results we may explore this.”