Stuart Derbyshire, an associate professor in the department of psychology and Clinical Imaging Research Centre, National University of Singapore has written a very interesting article.
He says that he first became interested in HIV and AIDS in the late 1980s, when the ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign was running on British TV screens. At that time very little was known about the virus and how it worked. Virologists debated whether HIV even caused AIDS. Some posed unanswered questions ... "Why was the latency from infection to disease so long? Why did the virus cause so many disparate diseases? Why was it so hard to isolate the HIV virus from a patient with full-blown AIDS?"
Slowly those questions were answered. Derbyshire explains how HIV hijacks the immune system and sets it against itself in a war of attrition. He says that some patients are able to fend the virus off for longer, but it is a losing battle, and eventually the immune system falters. Eventually, the immune system can do little except to fend off the replicating HIV, and so leaves the patient extremely vulnerable to many opportunistic infections. This is the reason why HIV sufferers may develop many other diseases, while, paradoxically, expressing little of the virus itself – their immune system is still wiping it out.
When these facts about HIV were uncovered, still it was unknown how to prevent a virus that did what HIV did. A vaccine seemed unlikely and a cure seemed impossible.
But then the impossible started to happen. Antiretroviral drugs were developed and they were able to keep the virus in check. When the drugs were used continuously it slowed down the deterioration and even prevented premature death. The drugs also weakened transmission of the virus through pregnancy and through sexual contact. Fortunately, the virus has retreated further and further as the drugs have improved. However, the virus only recedes and lies dormant and so patients with HIV still have to keep taking antiretrovirals. If the patient stops taking the drugs, it re-emerges.
Derbyshire says that now, HIV scientists are on the verge of an even bigger breakthrough .... a complete cure for HIV. This would be achieved by a procedure dubbed as ‘kick and kill’. It makes use of antiretrovirals to kill the virus and then the antiretrovirals are followed by a different drug to eradicate the remaining HIV, which would otherwise lie dormant.
He says that 50 patients in the UK have received the treatment, and early tests on the first person to complete it show no signs of HIV in his blood. If that continues, he will be the first person to be completely cured of HIV using a drug regimen. Obviously it is too early to claim this as the ultimate breakthrough. However, even if the ‘kick and kill’ method is not the complete cure, still it's getting much closer. HIV patients who follow the regimen will at least be able to live their lives almost entirely virus-free, and the risk of them infecting others will become very small.
Yes, 25 years ago the HIV viral infection that was almost entirely unknown and totally misunderstood may soon be wiped out of existence.
Stuart Derbyshire says, "HIV, once touted as the virus that would drive humanity to extinction, now itself faces extinction at the hands of humanity."
14 OCTOBER 2016