In his October 10, 2016 article “Why It’s Too Soon to Say that HIV has been Cured,” Knvul Sheikh argues that recent headlines claiming that a British man has been cured of HIV are misleading. This man was a participant in a clinical trial involving a “shock and kill” regimen. The idea is to activate “resting” CD4 cells, which are reservoirs of HIV even when the virus is undetectable via blood tests. This would activate the virus as well so that scientists can boost the patient’s immune system to destroy the virus-carrying cells while they’re vulnerable.
However, some scientists have criticized these articles because the only way to know that a person is truly HIV-free is to test many different tissues, rather than just running a blood test, and repeat these tests. In the recent case, the patient was also on antiretroviral therapy, which also reduces the viral load to the point where it is undetectable via blood tests. Therefore, it is unknown if this new therapy has a different effect than that of antiretroviral therapy.
The British man is the first participant to complete the regimen, and the trial is not expected to be complete until 2018. Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at Columbia University warns that even if the trial is a complete success, the results should be interpreted with caution. The researchers will need to follow up on the patients for years to make sure that HIV is truly gone and to check other tissues for the virus. Janet Siliciano, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, says that the results would need to be replicated in larger studies and the treatment needs to at least meet current regimens in terms of safety and effectiveness.
Knvul Sheikh "Why It’s Too Soon to Say that HIV has been Cured." Popular Science. 2016 October 10. http://www.popsci.com/why-its-too-soon-to-say-hiv-has-been-cured