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Early Detection of HIV May Lead to 'Functional Cure'

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Selah Hennessy
— A small group of HIV-positive patients in France managed to remain healthy after they stopped using antiretroviral treatment, according to French researchers.  The patients all began treatment within ten weeks of being infected.

The study involved 14 adults, a group known as the Visconti cohort.  They all began treatment within ten weeks of being infected by HIV, and continued using treatment for an average of three years.

“They have been able to control infections off therapy and actually in some of them we observe a decrease in the levels of viral reservoirs over the years," said Dr. Asier Saez-Cirion, the lead researcher of the French study.  "So they have achieved a kind of remission of infection.”

The study says with early diagnosis and quick treatment about one in 10 HIV-positive patients could be "functionally cured" -- a state where the virus has not been eradicated but has been reduced to levels low enough that further treatment is not needed.

The 14 patients in the study have remained healthy for more than seven years.

Earlier this month, scientists in the United States announced they had cured a baby born with HIV. The baby, who was given antiretroviral drugs within 30 hours of her birth, was also deemed “functionally cured.”

Saez-Cirion says the two studies are significant.

“They go in the same sense - that is that early treatment initiation may help some individuals to get this state of remission of infection after treatment interruption,” he said.

But Saez-Cirion remains cautious.  He says most patients who follow the same course will not successfully control the infection and he stresses the importance of patients continuing their treatment.  Most people with HIV, he says, will develop full-blown AIDS if medication is stopped.

The researchers say it’s not clear why some patients were functionally cured while others were not.

What’s more, Saez-Cirion says early intervention is often difficult.
 
“The early intervention is difficult everywhere.  Not only in developing countries where the most important thing is access to treatment at any time point," he added. "But even here in France, there are a lot of people who ignore that they are infected and by the time they go to the clinician it is a little bit late.”

The research from the French study was published in the United States journal PLOS Pathogens.

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