An HIV cure is a step closer after scientists found a molecular “kill switch” that stops infected cells from reproducing. A Lifelong drug treatment can prevent the virus leading to AIDS from reproducing— but it remains dormant and can re-awaken if therapy is stopped. But now, scientists in the US believe they have made a breakthrough – discovering “one of the key switches that the HIV field has been searching for three decades to find”.
Drugs stop virus replicating
When a person is diagnosed with HIV, doctors start them on anti-retroviral treatment straight away. The combination of three drugs – typically taken in one tablet – work to stop the virus replicating in the body. By doing so, it reduces a person’s viral load – the amount of HIV in the blood. Once a person’s viral load drops below a certain threshold, it is described as being undetectable – which means they cannot pass the virus on to a sexual partner, even if they have unprotected sex. While the treatment is highly effective, it does not amount to a cure. Instead the virus does remain active – though at a very low level – in the body. If anti-retroviral therapy is stopped, these HIV reservoirs that lie dormant, can re-awaken.
One step closer to ‘Holy Grail’
But the new findings from the University of California, San Diego raise hopes that scientists are one step closer to that “Holy Grail”. Using genetic sequencing, the team identified a key cellular player in controlling how HIV reproduces in immune cells. Lab tests showed when the RNA molecule – dubbed HEAL – is turned off or deleted, it eliminates the dormant HIV reservoirs hiding in the body. Dr Tariq Rana, the author of the study, said: “The most exciting part of this discovery has not been seen before. “By genetically modifying a long non-coding RNA, we prevent HIV recurrence in T cells (immune cells) upon cessation of anti-retroviral treatment, suggesting that we have a potential therapeutic target to eradicate HIV and Aids.”
There are more than 100,000 Brits living with HIV in the UK – while an estimated 35 million are HIV positive across the world. Thanks to modern medicine, and anti-retroviral treatment, very few people in the UK go on to develop serious or late-stage HIV illnesses, that were prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s. Early diagnosis and effective treatment mean people with HIV can now expect to live as long as the rest of the population.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.
These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV. They include:
- Sore throat
- Body rash
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Swollen glands
After this illness, which normally lasts one to two weeks, HIV sufferers will have no symptoms for up to 10 years – during which time they will look and feel well. However, the virus will continue to cause progressive damage to a person’s immune system. Only once the immune system is already severely damaged will the person show new symptoms. These include:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Night sweats
- Skin problems
- Recurrent infections
- Serious, life-threatening illnesses
Source: The Sun