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Is an HIV/AIDS Cure Within Humanity’s Reach?

Scanning electromicrograph of an HIV-infected H9 T cell. | Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via Flickr.com

The first cases of human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) were identified in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the world has yet to find a cure that will ultimately remove the infection from a patient’s system. But with the medical and technological advancements through the past decades, is the complete HIV/AIDS cure within the reach of humanity?

At the moment, the widely used and effective treatment to HIV/AIDS is antiretroviral therapy (ART). it does not remove HIV from the body, but it helps in reducing the viral load allowing people living with HIV become healthier for many years. But how ART works has also been a good starting point for scientists and researchers in finding the complete cure for HIV/AIDS.

On a good note, significant developments in finding the potential HIV/AIDS cure was made in recent years. In late 2018, researchers launched a study — funded by Pasteur Institute, American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR), and Sidaction — focusing on classifying CD4 cells linked to HIV/AIDS infection. They explained in a press release that, despite effective ART, “The virus is still present in reservoirs: immune cells, CD4 T cells.”

With that, a study focusing on the characteristics of “different CD4 subpopulations” was started. Researchers have experiments showing “metabolic activity of the cell, and in particular its glucose consumption” makes it greatly susceptible to HIV infection.

“It has been found that, thanks to certain metabolic inhibitors, the virus can no longer infect cells and that its amplification from the reservoirs of patients on antiretroviral treatment is stopped,” Pasteur Institute researcher Asier Saez-Cirion said in a statement. If this research would successfully find a way to eliminate reservoir cells, it could be a huge advancement in finding a complete HIV/AIDS cure.

There was a significant rise in the number of people living with HIV from around 8.3 million in 1990 to over 36 million in 2017. However, the efforts by many organizations worldwide seems to be working as new HIV infections saw a steady decrease for the past 22 years, according to available data from UNAIDS.

Such efforts include expansion of Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) programs where people with high risk of getting infected with HIV are being supported to take HIV medicines on a daily basis to lower the rate of their susceptibility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%.”

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