Fresh hope of an HIV cure as researchers say 'shock and kill' treatment could destroy even 'invisible' levels of the virus

Fresh hope of an HIV cure as researchers say 'shock and kill' treatment could destroy even 'invisible' levels of the virus

December 9, 2018

The virus currently hides at "undetectable" levels making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to cure the patient.

Researchers at the University of Illinois in the US believe there might be good news for patients, as their new-found research is a step in the right direction to killing the virus completely.

Their beliefs are set on the strategy that targeting a gene inside the brain could flush the virus out of hiding and leave it vulnerable to the immune system and drugs, reported Daily Mail.

Charities welcomed the findings two days ago, and deemed the results as “promising” for the future of the cure.

The research, led by Professor Jie Liang, claims the gene Tat could expose the HIV out of hiding, consequently revealing the virus to the immune system.

This could open doors for antiretroviral drugs to fight the fatal virus by forcing it out into the open, in a method known as “shock and kill”.

Professor Liang said: “It is extremely difficult to flush latency-infected cells out of their latency.”

Over the past forty years, researchers have been trying to crack the code of the cure for HIV.

Research progress has allowed more patients with the virus can have unprotected sex without fear of passing it on.

The deadly virus is known to affect over 37million people worldwide.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease.

AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, when your body can no longer fight life-threatening infections.

With treatment, most people with HIV do not ever develop AIDS.

Shock and kill treatments were tested on HIV patients by using cancer drugs called HDAC inhibitors.

In a medical journal published by PNAS, researchers have “far failed to reduce the latent reservoir”.

Researchers at the university used a computer model to study the Tat gene under various different conditions.

Professor Liang added: “By targeting the Tat gene circuit with drugs or small molecules to activate it, we would be able to cause latency-infected cells to start producing more viruses, and then they can be destroyed by the immune system.

“And our results suggest new ways of targeting latent cells that may lead to the eradication of the HIV virus from a host.”

What are the first symptoms of HIV?

Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.

These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV.

They include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Body rash
  • Tiredness
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Swollen glands

The Tat gene has a random chance of being active or inactive at any time and can suddenly alter from one to the other.

Around 101,600 people are living with HIV in the UK.

Official figures in September revealed the number of new cases of HIV diagnosed in the UK have fallen to its lowest numbers since 2000.

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