French patients keep HIV at bay despite ending medication
By Kerry Sheridan ,AFPWASHINGTON -- A small French study of 14 HIV patients who have remained healthy for years after stopping drug treatment offers fresh evidence that early medical intervention may lead to a “functional cure” for AIDS, researchers said Thursday.
March 16, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
The research, published in the U.S. journal PLoS Pathogens, comes on the heels of a report last week that a baby in Mississippi appeared to be cured of HIV after aggressive antiretroviral drug treatment delivered within 30 hours of birth.
Experts agree that while parallels between the two studies are intriguing, the phenomenon is rare — and warn that most of the 34 million people infected with HIV worldwide would develop full-blown AIDS if they stopped taking drugs to repress the human immunodeficiency virus.
Myron Cohen, a well-known U.S. expert on HIV and chief of the Center for Infectious Diseases at Duke University, described the French study as “provocative.”
“It provokes us to think. Who in the universe of people treated early can come off treatment? They showed us some clues, but it is a question that demands more science,” he told AFP.
The study involves 14 adults, a group known as the VISCONTI cohort, which stands for Viro-Immunologic Sustained Control After Treatment Interruption.
They were treated for HIV with a range of antiretroviral drugs, each within 10 weeks of infection, and stopped treatment around three years afterward on average.
The group has been able to keep viral loads under control for a median of 7.5 years without drug treatment, said the study.
The results are surprising as the individuals do not have the genetic characteristics of another rare group of people — fewer than one percent of the population — who appear able to spontaneously stave off HIV without medicine and are known as “natural” or “elite controllers.”
Those in the VISCONTI group, described as “post-treatment controllers,” have not completely eliminated HIV from their bodies. They continue to maintain it at a low level in their cells and have not become sick.
Researchers cautioned, though, that the mechanism that explains why these patients can fight HIV without drugs remains unclear. Several immunologic tests have not found a singular cause for their continued control of the virus.