Findings from researchers at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center recently published in Nature Communications appear to show that HIV could be functionally cured in mice.
“These data provide proof-of-concept that permanent viral elimination is possible,” notes the study abstract. Nearly 37 million people in the world are living with HIV, scientists estimate, with over 5,000 contracting the virus each day.
Today’s medications can successfully suppress the replication of HIV in humans to undetectable levels, which makes it impossible to contract the virus. But there’s no clear way to remove HIV entirely or cure it in humans. To date, there’s been one person who has managed to remain virally suppressed without continuing treatment for a decade following a bone marrow transplant, but those results have yet to be replicated.
The new research on mice, though, shows promising results. Scientists developed a long-acting, slow-release antiretroviral therapy, using fatty-acid-modified prodrugs that were synthesized as prodrugs for dolutegravir, lamivudine, and abacavir “by esterification with myristic acid,” according to Nature Communications. These drugs were able to suppress the replication of the virus in HIV-positive mice. As Kamel Khalili, the coauthor of the study, told CNN, scientists used a gene editing tool to remove the remaining virus.
Overall, researchers were able to eliminate the virus in nine out of 23 test subjects. Although that means only 39 percent of the mice were functionally cured, this is a huge step forward, and the work provides early evidence of what may be achievable in humans.
Still, it took years to confirm the virus was eliminated, and Howard Gendelman at the University of Nebraska said it will take additional years to replicate results and develop a similar technique using the human genome. He is already studying similar techniques with primates.
“We’re landing on the moon,” Gendelman told CNN. “It doesn’t mean you made it to Mars yet.