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Elite Controllers Could Hold Secret to HIV Cure, Vaccine

Photo by Samson Okeniyi from Pexels

Elite controllers are people with HIV antibodies, but whose viral loads remain low.

Medical device and health care company Abbott announced they've identified an unusually large group of HIV elite controllers in Africa, and these people could pave the way for a cure or vaccine for the disease.

These elite controllers, living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, test positive for HIV antibodies but their viral loads remain low, even without antiretroviral medication. Their immune response could possibly be replicated through science and used as an option to defeat or prevent HIV.

Elite controllers aren't exclusive to the DRC, but they apparently exist at much higher numbers than in other parts of the world.The prevalence of HIV elite controllers was 2.7-4.3 percent in the DRC, compared to a 0.1-2 percent prevalence worldwide, according to researchers from Abbott, John Hopkins University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Université Protestante au Congo.

In its press release on the findings, Abbott noted that HIV originated in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in areas within the DRC. This may have something to do with the higher rate of elite controllers.

Using blood samples from as early as 1987 and as recent as 2017, researchers were able to identify elite controllers and rule out false positives, errors at collection sites, and antiretroviral use among these individuals. Abbott is bullish with their findings and believes they can pave the way for major advances in HIV science.

“The finding of a large group of HIV elite controllers in the DRC is significant considering that HIV is a life-long, chronic condition that typically progresses over time,” said Tom Quinn, M.D., director of Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, and chief of the International HIV/AIDS Research Section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, and one of the study authors. “There have been rare instances of the infection not progressing in individuals prior to this study, but this high frequency is unusual and suggests there is something interesting happening at a physiological level n the DRC that’s not random.”

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