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HIV cure study advances as researchers learn where the virus hides in the body

An electromicrograph scan of an HIV-infected H9 T-cell. | Photo by NIAID via (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

HIV can hide within the patient’s body, making it difficult to completely eradicate. With the hopes of finding an HIV cure, researchers from the Belgium-based university UZ Gent recently reported a milestone of locating where the residual virus can be found.

Medical science has come a long way in helping HIV-positive patients get more chances to live a normal life despite not having the virus completely removed from their bodies. The availability of antiretroviral therapy and AIDS inhibitor drugs allow people living with HIV to keep the virus at bay to the point that they can no longer infect others.

Research helps HIV cure study by locating the hiding virus

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Host and Microbe, was led by doctor Marie-Angelique De Scheerder and professor Linos Vandekerckhove of the said university. Following their medical investigation, the scientists found out that HIV does not hide in one specific location in the body. Vandekerckhove told De Morgen that the residual virus could be found “everywhere” in a patient’s body.

This helps the HIV cure studies in a way that scientists now know where to look for the remaining virus if they want to completely eradicate them. Vandekerckhove explained that learning that the virus hides in many places in the body makes the process of removing them more complicated as well. “If we want to come to a cure, then a therapy must be developed that focuses on all those places, or different therapies must be combined,” Vandekerckhove said. Nevertheless, this research helps in advancing the study for an HIV cure.

The scientists observed 11 patients who, for the sake of the experiment, suspended taking AIDS inhibitor drugs. The patients report to the researchers twice a week for them to accurately determine the viral count changes through the course of the experiment. They learned that HIV is activated only within 14 to 35 days, and even more quickly after that period since the patients stopped taking their medications.

HIV cure is still elusive

The latest data from UNAIDS estimates that almost 38 million people around the world are living with HIV. While the number of AIDS-related deaths has decreased over the years, many scientists are still hard at work to find a complete cure.

HIV’s nature of clinging on to the CD4 lymphocyte, a kind of white blood cell, is one of the main reasons why it is difficult to cure or remove from the body. This allows HIV also to infect even the cells that should be fighting off other viral infections.

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