Spanish researchers may have discovered a major breakthrough in the path toward developing a therapeutic HIV vaccine, and possibly a cure.
A therapeutic vaccine is the type of shot that treats an existing disease rather than prevent it. Felipe Garcia, one of the scientists on the team at Barcelona University's Hospital Clinic, told the Agence France-Presse that the method involves giving "instructions to the immune system so it could learn to destroy the virus, which it does not do naturally."
According to the study, the viral load of half of the HIV-positive participants dropped 90% after using the therapy for 12 weeks. However, effectiveness declined after 24 weeks, and within a year, the vaccine lost effectiveness, causing participants to return to their regular antiretroviral therapy.
Though the effects were short-term, the researchers said this study opens the door toward a functional cure, or the use of the therapeutic vaccine that could then lead to a cure.
"This investigation opens the path to additional studies with the final goal of achieving a functional cure -- the control of HIV replication for long periods or an entire life without anti-retroviral treatment," the researchers said in a statement. "Although we still have not got a functional cure, the results published today open the possibility of achieving an optimal therapeutic vaccine, or a combination of strategies that includes a therapeutic vaccine, and could help to reach that goal."
The next step after this seven-year process would be to improve their vaccine, and then attempt combining it with other therapeutic vaccines over the next three or four years.