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A French study of 14 patients with HIV who have remained healthy for years despite stopping treatment has offered fresh evidence that early medical intervention could lead to a so-called functional cure for AIDS.
It comes after the news a baby girl appeared to be cured of HIV after aggressive anti-retroviral drug treatment within 30 hours of birth.
Scientists in France said the 14 patients were treated within 10 weeks of being infected with HIV. They received treatment for three years but after that did not need it.
Professor Christine Rouzioux is chief virologist at Necker Hospital in Paris. She said: “We think that it’s undoubtedly the very early prescribed treatment which allowed the control of the virus, because, this treatment completely blocks the invasion of the body by the virus at the time of the primary infection.”
After an acute infection, HIV establishes viral reservoirs in cells that allow it to hide and return, even after prolonged treatment, meaning that most people who stop taking medication see the infection return.
Professor Christine Rouzioux added: “It is not unlikely that these subjects could escape the disease, one day. They have had more than seven years without treatment, without treatment and without toxicity, which is huge anyway.”
But researchers do not understand why these 14 patients can fight HIV without drugs, whereas the majority of people who receive early treatment cannot. It may be that in their cases the early treatment could have limited the establishment of the viral reservoirs and preserved their immune responses.
Scientists are continuing to study the group for clues as to why and how their bodies act the way they do.