the world again there is no universal remedy for HIV, but from an arsenal of drugs and treatments For keep the infection under control and thus prevent the development of the disease known as AIDS. It is, so far, the key premise understand what it means to contract this virus. Fortunately, science is advancing and little by little means are being found so that one day, this infection will be completely eradicated.
In recent years, for example, several cases have been described of patients who, either naturally or through some type of medical intervention, managed to get rid of the virus. His story, handling the experts, is a step forward to continue looking for a cure for this infection which today continues to affect millions of people around the world.
These are some of key words understand the medical advances on HIV and AIDS, explained by Julia Blancoprincipal investigator of the Virology and Cellular Immunology group of the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute.
they only know each other four cases in the world of patients who have succeeded in getting rid of all traces of HIV in their bodies. These are very exceptional cases. So much so, in fact, her story was leaked anonymously under names like the patient from Berlin, the patient from London, the patient from Düsseldorf and the patient from New York. “This phenomenon is known as the sterilizing cure for HIV. This is defined only as those cases in which the virus is observed to have completely disappeared from the patient’s cellsthat not even a trace of the viral genome remains,” says Blanco.
All cases of HIV sterilization treatment described so far have a common point. They are all HIV-infected patients who, at some point in their lives, suffered from blood cancer and they had to go through a bone marrow transplant: a procedure to “destroy” some of the patient’s damaged cells and replace them with healthy cells. “This gives avenues for further research, but in no case does it represent a viable treatment for patients. Let’s not forget that sometimes this type of intervention involves many risks”, specifies the scientist.
Several cases of “functional HIV cure” have also been described. There are no official estimates of how many patients fit this definition, but according to scientific journals there are at least a hundred known cases worldwide. “In these cases, we see that patients continue to have HIV infected cells but that the virus does not replicate. It is the equivalent of control the infection without the need for treatmentWhite explains.
The “functional cure” of HIV is mainly related to the Immune system of the patients themselves. Specifically, with the T cell capacity to control virus replication. These cases are being closely studied by the scientific community in an attempt to decipher which genetic ingredients may contribute to the control of the virus. Currently, studies indicate a some genetic mutations linked to different mechanisms of the immune system.
Within cases of “functional cure” of HIV, specialists distinguish a very specific profile of patients: elite pilots. These are people who were infected with the virus, took antiretroviral treatment in the early stages of infection, and years later stopped taking the drugs. In these cases, tests show that the virus is still latent in their cells but not spreading. The case of the patient from Barcelona, studied at the Hospital Clínic, would fit into this profile.
A very important nuance in understanding this type of case, explains Blanco, is that the “functional cure” of these patients not always permanent. “There are cases where the infection comes back and the patients have to take antiretroviral drugs again. This is because, unlike ‘sterilization’, in these cases we know that the virus has not been completely eliminated“, explains the virologist.