Will HIV ever be curable?

The Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the disease that caused chaos in the 1980s New York  AIDS bloom, what is it? How does it spread? How can we treat it? Both treatments for those living with HIV and preventative treatments for those most at risk of contracting HIV have improved enormously since it first came about, but will we ever be able to cure HIV?

HIV timeline, showing the developments of understanding throughout the years

HIV is a disease that works to suppress the body’s immune system to a point where the body can no longer fight off other infectious diseases, or even keep the ‘healthy’ bacteria that already exists within our bodies at bay.

It targets a particular white blood cell of the immune system which are called T-helper cells. These cells have proteins on the surface called CD4. CD4 positive (CD4+) cells are used to assess the progression of a patients HIV. Without treatment, the CD4+ cells will deplete to a stage where the patient will develop Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the stage that is most fatal. The video below explains this in more detail…

Unfortunately there is no cure for HIV as of yet, but the current treatment for those with HIV is antiretroviral therapy (ART).

ART effectively interferes with the viral replication, as it prevents the virus producing the proteins that it needs for replication. ART  allows HIV positive patients to live long, healthy and normal lives, besides some side effects from the pills they have to take.

There is also treatment for those who might have been exposed to HIV within the last 72 hours, this is called Post-exposure-prophylaxis (PEP). PEP works to prevent the virus from settling down into the CD4+ cells and prevents infection.

PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis)  is a prophylactic treatment for groups who are at high risk of contracting the disease can take to reduce their chances of contracting the virus upon exposure.

Despite reducing the levels of viral load in HIV+ patients, the disease is still not curable. Likewise with a Malaria vaccine mentioned in my previous blog, talk of vaccines that intervene at various parts of the replication cycle of HIV might be the most promising outlook in eradicating HIV. Yes, a vaccine is not a cure for people already living with HIV, but this would certainly be a start in its eradication. There has also been attempts to vaccine-induce a response from other cells in our immune system to recognise infected CD4+ cells and destroy them, but it’s believed the virus can ‘escape’ this .

The man who once had HIV, Timothy Ray Brown

What gives more hope to the fact HIV can be cured, is that there is one man, Timothy Ray Brown, commonly known as the ‘berlin patient’, who has been ‘cured’ of HIV due to an induced genetic immunity via a stem cell transplant.

As so much for a cure, it seems from the relevant literature that it will be possible at some point in the future. However, this would be later rather than sooner.


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