HIV Sanctuary Cell Treatment Signals Possible Cure

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Scientists have found a new way to fight - and possibly eradicate - HIV, according to a study released Sunday by a team of Canadian and American researchers. The new "weapon" will combine antiretroviral therapy, which is the current treatment for HIV/AIDS, with a new one the researchers are calling an intelligent targeted chemotherapy.

When doctors started using antiretrovirals to block the virus in the mid-'90s, they were able to transform a patient with HIV from someone who was going to die within the next five years to someone who could live up to 20 years or more with the infection, according to Sekaly.


However, the virus was only ever diminished and never eliminated; patients were condemned to take medication for the rest of their lives. Patients become reinfected because the HIV in their system feeds from a reservoir of the virus contained within a cell, which acts as a sanctuary for the virus. For reasons unknown until now, these sanctuaries were unaffected by antiretroviral therapy.

The researchers discovered the virus inside the reservoir is unlike the typical HIV virus. Whereas viruses successfully controlled with antiretroviral therapy divide, the virus contained inside the reservoir is dormant. This renders it impermeable to known therapies. Though there are limits to the success of antiretroviral therapy, the new treatment's success will be contingent on a patient's positive response to antiretroviral therapy.

Some HIV-positive patients do not respond to antiretroviral therapy. For those patients, zapping the cell will not likely yield any significant results.

However, antiretroviral therapy has successfully blocked the virus in 85 per cent of people in hospitals and large clinics in Canada, indicating that they would be good candidates for the new treatment to eradicate HIV. A study will begin in September to test the validity of these results. If targeted chemotherapy successfully eliminates HIV, researchers say the feasibility of the treatment will be determined over the next two to three years, with medication becoming available a few years after that.