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Danish scientists moving closer to HIV cure

According to The Telegraph newspaper, scientists are conducting a clinical trial to test a “novel strategy” in which the HIV virus is “reactivated” from its hiding place within human DNA and potentially destroyed permanently by the immune system.

With modern HIV treatment if medication is stopped, HIV reservoirs become active and start to produce more of the virus
With modern HIV treatment if medication is stopped, HIV reservoirs become active and start to produce more of the virus

The scientists are currently conducting human trials on their treatment, in the hope of proving that it is effective. It has already been found to work in laboratory tests.

The technique involves unmasking the “reservoirs” formed by the HIV virus inside resting immune cells, bringing it to the surface of the cells. Once it comes to the surface, the body’s natural immune system may be able to kill the virus.

In vitro studies of the new technique proved so successful that in January the Danish Research Council awarded the team 12 million Danish kroner (about US$2 million) to pursue their findings in clinical trials with human subjects.

These are now underway, and according to Dr Ole Søgaard, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and part of the research team, the early signs are “promising”. “I am almost certain that we will be successful in activating HIV from the reservoirs,” he said.

“The challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognise the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems, as well as how large a proportion of the hidden HIV is unmasked.”

Fifteen patients are currently taking part in the trials, and the first results from the trial are expected to be presented in the second half of 2013.

Dr Søgaard stressed that a cure is not the same as a preventative vaccine, and that raising awareness of unsafe behaviour, including unprotected sex and sharing needles, remains of paramount importance in combating HIV. 

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