There has been much discussion in the HIV research community about the ways to find a cure for the disease. While current medical technology has been effective at keeping the virus suppressed temporarily, stopping antiretroviral therapy (ART), for example, just creates the perfect environment for the remaining virus to proliferate. These HIV reservoirs, as they're called, are seen as the last hiding places for HIV in the body, and the key to finding a functional cure lies within them. It seems that a sterilizing cure will remain elusive for the time being, however. Let's discuss four of the approaches being tested to find a functional cure for HIV.
The first is intensifying the treatment on the residual virus within the body-the HIV reservoirs. However, a couple of recent studies showed that there was no discernible benefit for doing so, since there was no noticeable decline in the quantity of residual HIV remaining in the body. Early treatment is another option. In this approach, treatment is started as soon as a person is diagnosed as HIV positive. Several studies have indicated that the number of infected cells is lower when early treatment is initiated rather than further along in the process of chronic infection.
The elimination of infected T cells is one of the most interesting approaches, mainly because it deals with one of the HIV reservoir sources. Latently infected cells are dormant; that is, they're "turned off," and antiretroviral drugs won't be able to detect these cells. In order to eliminate these infected cells, they're treated with drugs designed to turn the cells "on," and make them detectable to antiretroviral drugs. The thought process behind this is to make more cells active, which thereby reduces the number of HIV reservoirs in the body, which subsequently reduces the viral load to a level that the immune system can eventually suppress on its own without the help of ART-in effect, a functional HIV cure.
Zinc finger nucleases are another approach being thought of. Treating uninfected cells with genetic modification to make them resistant to HIV infection is a major step. The idea comes from a very rare anomaly that less than 2% of the world's population has-a genetic defect that makes interferes with the CCR5 receptor, the main point of entry for HIV into the cells. This defect makes it very difficult for HIV to enter cells. Mimicking this genetic defect can make the body resistant to HIV infection in general, which could lay the ground work for finding not only a functional cure, but a vaccine to give to non-infected people as well.
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