Science & Tech

Closer to a Functional HIV Cure

The latest research uncovers a completely new way to treat HIV that may lead to long-term suppression of the virus — and possibly a cure.

There have been some amazing scientific breakthroughs in the area of HIV treatment in recent years, and now a world-leader in biomedical research has made one that may lead to a “functional cure” for the virus. In a recent study conducted at The Scripps Research Institute’s Jupiter, FL., campus, researchers discovered a new compound that may be able to stop the production and re-activation of HIV in the body.

For years, scientists have been investigating many ways in which to rid the body of HIV, but this latest discovery aims to treat the virus that have never been done before. The new method involves the use of a novel compound — didehydro-Cortistatin A (dCA) ­­— capable of suppressing the HIV virus and preventing its resurgence. Study coauthor, Professor Susana Valente, calls this the “Block-and-Lock” approach.

Based on another naturally occurring compound, dCA stops the virus’s production, activation, and the replenishment of other infected cells when introduced to the body. The only problem is, the discovery is still in its infancy stages, and the “bodies” referenced so far all belong to mice. However, researchers are very optimistic that this discovery will lead to, at the very least, a way to achieve long-term suppression in people — and at most, a possible cure.

“No other anti-retroviral used in the clinic today is able to completely suppress viral production in infected cells in vivo [in a living organism],” Valente told Science Daily last week after the study was released. “When combining this drug with the standard cocktail of antiretrovirals used to suppress infection in humanized mouse models of HIV-1 infection, our study found a drastic reduction in virus RNA present — it is really the proof-of-concept for a ‘functional cure.’”

The fact that these mice have been scientifically “humanized” is very significant. Almost all successful treatments for any condition start with this type of testing, and now scientists can test on genetically-altered mice that very closely mimic reactions that would occur in a human being.

Using humanized mice to study the effects of dCA combined with anti-retroviral therapy, the team observed the virus did not reactivate for 19 days. For mice that only received anti-retroviral treatment, the virus returned in just 7 days. Prior to halting treatment, the mice were given a single month’s course using “the maximum tolerable dose of the drug — with virtually no side effects.”

Though it’s still unclear how long HIV could be subdued, Valente and her team believe that longer treatments could result in longer periods before the virus reappears as well as permanent suppression.

“This is the only class of drugs that stops infected cells from making viruses outright,” continued Valente. “All current antivirals work later in the viral lifecycle, so only a HIV transcriptional inhibitor like dCA can stop the side effects of low-level virus production.”

It is not known at this time when dCA can start human test trials, but its discovery is certainly an enormous stride forward in our quest for the cure.

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