Scientists searching for a cure for AIDS say they have uncovered the basic chemistry of the HIV virus and that the most likely strategy for fighting the disease will be attacking it with another virus.
For almost a quarter of a century, scientists around the world have been trying to find a cure for the disease that has so far killed millions. The UN estimates that more than two million people were newly infected with the AIDS virus last year, more than half in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers have developed a range of medicines that can substantially prolong the life of HIV-positive patients, but their high price is keeping them outside of reach of many.
So scientists at the University of Miami are taking a different approach to attacking the virus.
In 2008, a patient in Berlin, Germany, was cured of HIV when he received a mutated gene during a bone marrow transplant from a donor naturally resistant to HIV.
Director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Miami, Mario Stevenson, said researchers are now trying to find a way to deliver the mutated gene on a large scale.
“Although we can't use bone marrow transplant to eradicate HIV, it has given us clues on how we would approach a cure strategy," he said. "It's given us a better understanding of what the virus is doing in the body of individuals who are on therapy, and it has given us the sort of obstacles that we need to overcome in order to eradicate the virus."
Stevenson said an effective method would be to develop a harmless virus that could transfer the mutated gene directly into the HIV virus. With this approach, he said, the scientists are beginning to see a possible cure.
“The basic science efforts that many of us have been engaged in have started to reveal what the ingredients of a cure would look like, what the obstacles to a cure look like, and what a success story might look like,” he said.
Scientists have to make sure that the delivery virus will be absolutely harmless, but they say the approach looks very promising. They predict it’s just a matter of time before there is a victory in the war against AIDS.