ABC News reports on Friday that French researchers have found that early and effective HIV treatment may lead to a so-called functional cure. Keep in mind that this is in a small fraction of HIV patients. Also keep in mind that scientists are talking about a functional cure, not a sterilizing cure which would mean that the patient would be completely free of HIV.
Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Institut Pasteur in Paris reports that 14 patients who were treated within the first two months of infection were later able to stop combination antiretroviral therapy without a HIV rebound.
Apparently, the 14 patients still have HIV but in most cases it can only be detected with ultrasensitive laboratory tests and is undetectable by standard methods. Researchers report that the infection appears to be under control without the use of drugs.
Earlier this month, researchers reported that combination antiretroviral treatment in the first few hours of life appears to have eliminated HIV infection in a baby. The Mississippi two year old little girl has given great hope to the masses.
Dr. Michael Saag of the University of Alabama Birmingham warns that discontinuing HIV treatment is not a great option. “In my practice, I would start everyone with acute infection on antiretroviral therapy, but in general I would just continue that therapy and not stop,” Saag shared.
Saag states that several studies of treatment interruption have showed that for most people, stopping therapy has lead to sharp and dangerous increases in HIV replication.
Sáez-Cirión states that the patients who participated in the treatment-interruption study expressed a desire to “take a vacation from therapy.”
The 14 study patients have now been off therapy for between four and 10 years and the virus is regarded as “undetectable” due to low levels of HIV RNA. Again, they still technically have HIV but the levels are so low that they won’t show up on conventional tests.
Just like the baby HIV case, early detection was a key factor in this study and much is still up for debate. It is certainly very risky to discontinue treatment and it’s certainly a winner takes all situation.
Although Saag isn’t completely convinced that interruption in treatment is the best option for patients, he said, it's "proof of concept" that the immune system can control HIV in some circumstances.
It may also offer hope for a vaccine, he said. "It shows there is some immune response that can be stimulated not just to control infection but to prevent infection if that part of the immune system can be primed and activated."
Researchers argue that the study of these patients and others like them could "open up new therapeutic perspectives" for people with HIV.
So, this is a step in the right direction but if the civilized world is looking for any absolute answers from researchers about a HIV cure, today is not the day … But, there’s always tomorrow …