Researchers backing off hopes for an AIDS cure

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 01 2001 11:00 PM ET

Research projects that have revealed long-lived HIV reservoirs as well as failed attempts to target drugs to destroy these viral holding tanks have led some top scientists to publicly say they doubt a cure for AIDS will ever be found, reports The Wall Street Journal. “What HIV has done is tap into the fundamental aspect of the immune system, and that is its immunological memory,” said Robert Siliciano of Johns Hopkins University. His research shows that HIV lies dormant in resting memory T cells, and although these cells do die out slowly over time, it could take as long as 73 years for the body to purge every cell containing HIV. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has tried to flush out this reservoir by using doses of interleukin-2 to awaken resting HIV-infected T cells, but his studies show that HIV rebounds in every tested patient once all drug therapy is stopped. “We are not going to be eliminating this reservoir,” Fauci now says. “Whether you can measure it or not doesn’t seem to have a significant impact on the clinically relevant phenomenon of what happens when you stop the drugs.” David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center is working on a new approach that if successful, would shut off the body’s supply of infected memory T cells. But Ho points out that even if his work does prove to be effective, there is still the gloomy possibility that memory T cells are not the body’s only HIV viral reservoirs—it’s also possible that HIV may linger in areas not easily reached by AIDS drugs, including the brain, bone marrow, and the testes. “Nobody should say that once we get rid of this [memory T-cell] reservoir that we have a cure,” he said.

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