More than 37,000 people in the United States receive an HIV diagnosis every single year. These numbers have continued to rise. In fact, the rate of new diagnoses rose 7% between 2014 and 2018 alone.
Even though we’ve come a long way in understanding bloodborne pathogens like HIV, we still haven’t arrived at a definite cure. And, some scientists are wondering if there will ever be a cure.
Because of the way HIV travels from one person to another, the cure for HIV may be a long way away. But, how close are we to the cure? Will HIV ever be curable?
To find out the answers to these questions and more, keep reading.
What Is the Current Treatment for HIV?
Today, scientists and physicians have created a drug regimen that can treat and control HIV which is one of the most common bloodborne pathogens. To be clear, this isn’t a cure. Rather, it can help patients with HIV remain stable while the virus is still in the body.
One of these treatments is ART. This stands for antiretroviral therapy.
ART can lower the amount of the HIV virus that’s in the patient’s system. If taken daily, ART can lower the amount of virus by such a great amount that the blood tests show negative for it.
Patients who have an untraceable amount of the virus in their systems can go on to lead healthy, normal lives. In fact, these patients have very little risk of being able to pass the virus onto others.
However, if an HIV patient stops taking ART, the HIV virus can spike again. This is because the very little amount of the virus that remains collects in a group of cells called the HIV reservoir.
Because stopping the treatment can cause a rise in numbers, ART is not a cure. There is no current cure for HIV.
Is HIV Curable?
As of now, scientists do believe that finding the cure for HIV is possible. However, this cure would have to keep the amount of the HIV virus in a patient’s system low for a long period of time.
Thus, researchers would need to find a way to eliminate the daily need for ART.
The goal is to find a cure that can wipe out the virus entirely. At the very least, scientists are looking for a way to keep patients in remission so that they don’t need ART daily.
What Is the Cure for HIV?
Researchers are looking at two potential ways to cure HIV:
- Treatment-free remission
- Viral eradication
You may hear professionals refer to treatment-free remission as functional care. These terms refer to a controlled level of the HIV virus in the body. This means that the patient with HIV won’t need to consistently take ART drugs.
As of now, HIV patients have to take this therapy every single day for their entire lives.
Unfortunately, millions of patients with HIV cannot afford ART. So, they have to use other treatments.
With treatment-free remission, patients can live a healthy, normal life. And, they won’t have to take ART or any other similar drugs to keep the HIV virus count down. Even better, this kind of treatment means that HIV patients won’t be able to pass the virus onto others.
As of now, researchers are looking into antibody therapies that stimulate the immune system to fight the HIV virus.
Viral eradication is another term for a sterilizing cure. Scientists break this kind of cure up into two parts:
- We have to force the HIV reservoir to multiple and express proteins that the immune system can recognize
- We have to teach the body to detect these protein signals so that it can seek out and kill the virus in the body
Medications that researchers are considering include histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, latency securing agents, immunotoxins, and protein kinase activators. Most recently, researchers have been considering a gene-editing technique that can help geneticists insert an HIV-protective mutation into your genes.
Are They Trying to Cure HIV?
Scientists have been trying to cure HIV for many years. And, current HIV trials are looking promising. In particular, there are two trials that seem to be showing hopeful results:
- The Berlin Patent
- Visconti Cohort
Each one has its own approach. But, both are doing well in ongoing trials.
The Berlin Patent
The Berlin Patent came about coincidentally. A man from Germany was cured of HIV after having a stem cell transplant for leukemia, a completely unrelated condition. Interestingly, that transplant is what cured his HIV.
The stem cell donor had a mutation of the CCR5 gene which is related to HIV. This mutation made the stem cell donor resistant to the infection.
Since the patient received the donor’s stem cells, he also received the mutated gene. In 2019, two more people were cured of HIV via the same method.
Now, researchers are working on extending this method to other HIV patients.
The Visconti Cohort refers to a remission method of curing HIV. In 2010, a baby who was born with HIV began ART after birth. That baby was in remission for two years.
Unfortunately, the virus did come back as we explained happens when typical patients stop taking ART.
Off of this premise, the Visconti Cohort was formed. These trials consisted of individuals who had recently become infected. The idea is that treating the patients with ART early can lead to remission of the condition.
With this, it’s important to note that HIV patients shouldn’t stop ART therapies by themselves. You should always consult your physician before making drastic changes in your medical care.
Unfortunately, this method has not proven effective on patients who have had HIV for a long period of time. So, there is still much work to be done when it comes to HIV remission.
What Is Stopping the Cure for HIV?
There are three main barriers to finding the cure for HIV:
- Scientists don’t completely understand how HIV reservoirs work
- The mutation of the CCR5 gene is rare
- The research revolves mainly around male patients with HIV
First, let’s talk about HIV reservoirs. We know that they exist and we know that they can continue to multiply without ART. But, we don’t know much else.
Scientists aren’t sure how to find them, how to measure how much virus they’re holding, or how to destroy them.
As for the CCR5 mutation, its rarity is a problem. It’s hard to find donor stem cells to donate to the entire population of HIV patients.
Plus, stem cell therapy is risky. Patients could reject the stem cells which can cause them to become fatally ill.
The last barrier involves a flaw in research trials. Males make up the majority of HIV clinical trials even though half of the patients with HIV are female.
Will HIV Ever Be Curable?
Despite these drawbacks, scientists are still optimistic about finding the cure for HIV.
Scientists all over the world are researching and learning more about HIV reservoirs right now. And, they’re going to eventually find out enough information to make an effective treatment.
Researchers are also looking for a prevention technique for stem cell rejection. If the medical community can find a way to prevent stem cell rejection in patients, then we may be able to continue with the stem cell transplants that have been beneficial already.
As for clinical studies, there could be some promise given that researchers begin looking at women with HIV. It’s important for researchers to be evaluating all kinds of patients with HIV. By doing so, they may be able to find a cure for all HIV patients.
Is There a Cure for AIDS?
AIDS is a progressed form of HIV that can cause the entire immune system to become chronically compromised. Because HIV leads to AIDS, there is currently no cure for AIDS just as there is no cure for HIV.
However, like HIV, there are treatments that are effective in reducing HIV viruses in your body. Here are some of the treatments that have proven effective in controlling the virus count within patients’ bodies:
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTI)
- Protease inhibitors (PI)
- Fusion inhibitors
- Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTI)
Patients with AIDS should speak with their doctor about what their options for treatment are. They will depend on how progressed your condition is.
Where Can I Learn More About Bloodborne Pathogens?
When it comes to bloodborne pathogens like HIV, things can get tricky. The cure isn’t straightforward. Finding the treatment took years of hard work, and finding a cure is going to take even longer.
Because of our limited knowledge on the topic, healthcare professionals and healthcare-adjacent staff should have bloodborne pathogens training. By learning more about these conditions, we can readily protect ourselves and others from contracting them.
Thus, we can protect ourselves from the lifelong need for antiretroviral therapy for conditions like HIV and AIDS.