AN HIV cure is a step closer after scientists found a molecular “kill switch” that stops infected cells reproducing. Lifelong drug treatment can prevent the virus leading to Aids — but it remains dormant and can reawaken if therapy halts.
Now an RNA molecule which switches genes off and on has been found by the University of California San Diego.
They found that removing it from cells stopped HIV from coming back.
In lab tests, the study has found a cellular “switch” that could be turned off to clear out the virus hiding dormant inside cells – inching closer to finding “the holy grail” of HIV treatment.
Dr Tariq Rana, the author of the study, said: “This is one of the key switches that the HIV field has been searching for three decades to find.”
Currently, people with HIV need life-long treatment called antiretroviral therapy to keep symptoms at bay and stop the infection from turning into Aids.
But the current treatment isn’t a cure – the virus still lays dormant inside cells, ready to start multiplying again if therapy is stopped.
Recent figures suggest 36.9 million people are infected with HIV and Aids worldwide.
What are the symptoms of HIV?
Most infected people experience a short illness, similar to flu, two to six weeks after coming into contact with HIV.
These symptoms, which 80 per cent of infected people experience, are a sign that their body is trying to fight HIV. They include:
- Sore throat
- Body rash
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Swollen glands
After this illness, which normally lasts one to two weeks, HIV sufferers will have no symptoms for up to 10 years – during which time they will look and feel well.
However, the virus will continue to cause progressive damage to a person’s immune system.
Only once the immune system is already severely damaged will the person show new symptoms. These include:
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhoea
- Night sweats
- Skin problems
- Recurrent infections
- Serious, life-threatening illnesses
What is HIV?
HIV, which stands for the human immunodeficiency virus, was first discovered by scientists in the early 1980s.
The virus attacks the immune system and, if left untreated, can weaken a person’s ability to fight infections and disease.
In the late 80s and into the early 90s, most people diagnosed with HIV were eventually diagnosed with Aids.
Aids stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and is a collection of illnesses, triggered by the HIV virus.
Nowadays, thanks to modern medicine, the outcome is very different for those who are HIV positive.
Thanks to antiretroviral treatment – which people are given as soon as they are diagnosed – very few people in the UK go on to develop serious or late-stage HIV illnesses, and can expect to live long, healthy lives.