July 1, 2013
We may be approaching the final scientific obstacles to the discovery of an HIV cure, but the next steps in the journey are likely to be the most challenging, according to Steven Deeks, M.D.
Deeks, a professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, spoke at a press conference prior to his keynote speech during the opening session of the 7th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In his talk, Deeks highlighted the major questions he felt must be answered to ensure success with future HIV treatments and the search for an HIV cure.
Deeks pointed out that the focus in HIV research has shifted from the acute aspects of the disease to the chronic problems faced by HIV-infected individuals on long-term treatment. "Many of these problems that we're dealing with -- persistent inflammation, excess heart disease, overburdened health care systems, as well as the really big problem of not being able to afford long-term therapy -- could all be addressed with a cure," he said.
He compared our current search for a cure to the early search for effective HIV treatments in 1987. Back then, the focus was on eliminating virus in the blood. Now the focus is on eliminating virus hidden in reservoirs within the human body. The latent HIV within reservoirs is considered by many researchers to be the last hurdle toward HIV eradication, and we're now beginning to see some promising results, Deeks noted. "You're going to hear at this meeting, certain types of drugs, if you give it to a person on long-term therapy, you can affect the kind of virus that we need to get rid of to cure people," he said. "We're not going to cure anyone with it, but you're actually now really beginning to show that it's possible."
However, Deeks also cautioned that the journey may be much more difficult this time around than it was when HIV medications were first developed. "Going after the virus in 1987 [was] a lot easier than going after the latent virus. That was a free virus that floated around, had targets to go after," he said. "What we're going after now is hidden in cells, and we're going to have to somehow get in there without causing harm to the patient and that's a challenge."
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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