New research boosts search for HIV cure, meeting told

Fresh data from several small trials presented at an AIDS conference on Wednesday provides encouraging news in the quest for a cure for HIV, scientists said.

Giving an update in an eagerly-followed trial, researchers said an HIV-positive infant in Mississippi who was put on a course of antiretroviral drugs within a few days of birth had remained free of the AIDS virus 15 months after treatment was stopped.

In Boston, two HIV-positive men who were given bone-marrow transplants for cancer also had no detectable virus 15 weeks and seven weeks respectively after stopping AIDS drugs, a separate team reported.

Both research projects are at an early stage and should not be taken as a sign that a cure for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is around the corner, researchers cautioned at a world forum of AIDS scientists in Kuala Lumpur.

Even so, they said it strengthens the motivation for pursuing the once-unthinkable goal of eradicating HIV or repressing it without daily drugs -- a condition referred to as a "functional cure" or "functional remission".

"I don't actually want to use the cure word in this situation," said Timothy Henrich, from the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, of the bone-marrow study he is co-leading.

"But what I can say is that if these patients are able to stay without detectable HIV for at least a year, maybe a year and a half, after we stop treatment, then the chances of the virus coming back are very small," he told an AFP correspondent in Paris.

Introduced in 1996, the famous cocktail of antiretroviral drugs is a lifeline to millions with HIV.

But if the drugs are stopped, the virus rebounds from "reservoirs" among old cells in the blood stream and body tissue. It then renews its attack on CD4 cells, part of the immune system's heavy weaponry.

Deborah Persaud, heading the so-called Mississippi Child investigation, said early treatment of newborns appears to offer the best hope of attacking the virus before it gets established in these reservoirs.

"Therapy in the first few days of life really curtailed the reservoir formation to the point that (it) was not established in this child and allowed treatment cessation without having the virus rebound," Persaud, an associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said by phone.

An estimated 34 million people are infected with HIV worldwide, and about 1.8 million die each year.

The virus was first identified in 1981, and until the advent of antiretrovirals was essentially a death sentence, progressively destroying the immune system until the patient succumbed to pneumonia or another opportunistic disease.

Three years ago, Nobel-winning French researcher Francoise Barre-Sinoussi launched a campaign for a cure -- a hope bolstered by the case of a Berlin man whose HIV-count dropped to undetectable levels after a bone-marrow transplant for leukaemia.

In his case, the transplanted cells had a genetic variant, called CCR5 delta-32, which thwarts HIV's attempts to latch on to the cell's surface and then penetrate it.

The two Boston patients did not have this mutation in their transplants.

But they were kept on antiretrovirals until the donor cells were fully established in their bodies, and this may have helped, suggested Henrich.

In two other studies presented at the International AIDS Society (IAS) conference, French researchers said patients who began treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis had the best chance of shrinking the viral reservoir and reviving their immune system.

This backs new treatment guidelines published by the UN World Health Organization and strengthens hopes for a drug-free life for HIV patients, the French National Agency for Research on AIDS (ANRS) said.

"Given the large decrease in reservoirs in these two studies, it is possible that functional remission, i.e. prolonged control of the infection without treatment, may in time be achieved in patients treated early," ANRS chief Jean-Francois Delfraissy said.

The four-day IAS meeting concluding on Wednesday is held every two years.

  • Popular hot yoga myths debunked 5 hours ago
    Popular hot yoga myths debunked

    What’s the hottest new workout taking the world by storm? That would be hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga. Conducted in a heated room with sweltering temperatures of about 40°C (or approximately 104° Fahrenheit) and 40 per cent humidity, … Continue reading →

  • Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report 6 hours ago
    Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 17 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern
    Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern

    A new picture of Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who is now 90 years old, has drawn concern from people on Singapore's internet space.

  • Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls
    Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls

    After being photographed at work in Jurong pooling used oil near coffee shops, 50-year-old Valerie Sim has been struggling to keep her family afloat. Web portals STOMP and The Real Singapore published pictures of her in February, triggering a witch hunt for others like her and comments from readers like “Who knows if they’ll use it as cooking oil?” Some readers also said they filed police reports against her and other people they believed were doing the same thing she was.

  • Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake
    Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's military commander said critics who called him out for wearing an especially luxurious watch should be quiet because the timepiece is actually a cheap Chinese fake.