AIDS – French scientists find mechanism for spontaneous HIV cure

It’s the holy grail of HIV and AIDS research: the search for a cure for the virus that attacks the immune system, allowing life-threatening opportunistic infections and cancers to thrive. Significant strides have been made with pharmaceutical drugs – antiretrovirals –  that help those diagnosed as HIV positive to manage their condition, and live longer, healthier lives. But so far, a cure has proved elusive. Now French scientists believe they have uncovered the genetic path by which two men were spontaneously cured of the HI virus. They believe it’s an exciting discovery which could offer a new strategy in the ongoing global fight against AIDS. MS

HIV/AIDSPARIS, France – French scientists have unveiled the genetic mechanism by which they believe two men were spontaneously cured of HIV, and said the discovery may offer a new strategy in the fight against AIDS.

In both asymptomatic men, the AIDS-causing virus was inactivated due to an altered HIV gene coding integrated into human cells, the scientists write in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

This, in turn, was likely due to stimulation of an enzyme that may in future be targeted for drug treatment to induce the same response, they said.

“This finding represents an avenue for a cure,” study co-author Didier Raoult of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) told Agence France-Presse.

Neither of the men, one diagnosed HIV positive 30 years ago and the other in 2011, has ever been ill, and the AIDS-causing virus cannot be detected with routine tests of their blood.

In both, the virus was unable to replicate due to DNA coding changes that the researchers proposed were the result of a spontaneous evolution between humans and the virus that is called “endogenisation”.

“We propose that HIV cure may occur through HIV endogenisation in humans,” they write. “We believe that the persistence of HIV DNA can lead to cure, and protection, from HIV.”

The approach hitherto has been the opposite: to try and clear all traces of HIV from human cells.

The teams said they did not believe the two patients were unique or that the phenomenon was new. © 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse