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HIV Reservoirs Research Will Help Finding a Cure

Alain Lafeuillade
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Posted on Tuesday, 02 August 2011
in Fundamental Science

The quest toward finding a cure for HIV continues in earnest, and the scientific and medical communities alike are beginning to seriously whisper amongst themselves that a cure is just around the corner

The advancements in technology, antiretroviral drugs, and treatment have added decades to the lives of HIV positive patients, not just years. However, an outright cure has remained out of reach. The treatments that are currently available have been able to take the "death sentence" label off of being HIV positive, but how do we take the next logical step and find a cure?  The key to finding it lies in HIV reservoirs.

HIV reservoirs are the last hiding place for HIV. These reservoirs are pockets inside the body (usually cells in the brain, gut and other organs) where HIV hides out and lies dormant, waiting for antiretroviral treatment to cease so they can become active again, churning out new visions inside the body that can infect new CD4 cells. The goal of the research is to find ways to activate these reserve pockets of virus and fool them into coming out into the open, where the immune system can kill them and wipe them out. A functional cure is the potential result.

A sterilizing cure, where a person is completely cured of HIV and the virus is eradicated entirely, has hope for becoming a reality as well. The famous Berlin Patient, an HIV positive man who was actually cured of HIV after a bone marrow transplant, has given the research community newfound energy toward finding a sterilizing cure. In the Berlin case, the donor bone marrow came from a person with a rare genetic mutation of the CCR5 receptor, making people with this mutation resistant to HIV. Learning more about this mutation may be the key toward developing a vaccine designed to make a person resistant to contracting HIV in the first place.

More research is needed in finding the right methods to activate these HIV reservoirs and eliminate the last vestiges of virus from the HIV positive patient.  That research costs money—lots of money.  While hundreds of millions of dollars go into HIV vaccine research and billions more in developing drugs to treat the disease, the amount that goes into finding a functional cure seems like a mere pittance by comparison.  Given that HIV reservoirs are such a hot topic around the world, one would think more money would go into researching this topic and using that research to find a functional cure for HIV.

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Alain Lafeuillade has not set their biography yet