Breakthroughs in HIV research

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At the March 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Georgia, new research findings regarding long-term suppression of HIV virus in humans were discussed.  HIV is a retrovirus, meaning that it infects cells by inserting itself into the genetic code. 

Since 1996, highly aggressive antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has advanced to the point where HIV infection can be suppressed in patients, preventing the advancement of disease and reducing the risk for other associated infections.  However, these patients were not considered “cured”, since the virus levels would rise whenever the treatment was stopped. 

However, two recent breakthroughs may change our perspectives on an HIV cure. 

  • An infant in Mississippi born to an HIV infected mother was treated with a combination of HIV medicines from immediately after birth, but stopped the medicine.  However, when she was re-tested off medication, the virus was not detected. 
  • 14 adults in France who were treated with antiretrovirals shortly after exposure have been followed for several years off treatment, and all are maintaining extremely low virus levels. 

Both of these are considered “functional cures”, because the virus can still be found with special high sensitivity testing, but the virus levels stay low. This breakthrough only applies to a small subset of HIV patients, because it requires aggressive treatment in the period shortly after exposure.  However, any measure that gives sustained suppression of HIV without treatment is huge.

If you have questions or concerns about HIV exposure or infection, come see us at Student Health Services.  Our staff can help with the best advice and resources.

Good Health!

Roger Miller, MD (OSU Student Health Services)