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Some People can Control HIV even after Stopping Treatment: Study

Mar 16, 2013 07:26 AM EDT

French researchers say that a group of 14 patients has been able to control their HIV infection after stopping antiretroviral treatment for seven years. The study on the patients shows that functional cure can be achieved if patients with HIV are given treatments in the primary stage of the infection.

Earlier this month, U.S. doctors had announced that they had successfully "cured" a baby of HIV. In this case, the baby from rural Mississippi was put on antiretroviral drugs just 30 hours after birth.

In the present study, researchers from France found that treating patients early in the primary stage of the infection might lead to effective control of the disease even after the patient stops taking antiretroviral drugs.

The study was conducted on a group of patients called the Visconti cohort. These patients had been put on antiretroviral drugs within 10 weeks of being infected, BBC reported. Most people infected with HIV don't show any symptoms and live symptom-free for many years before the infection is spotted.

Researchers say that early treatment might not let the virus establish reservoirs that help it survive long-time treatments. In most patients, the virus kick-starts the process of making new copies of itself as soon as they stop taking the anti-HIV drugs.

"Early treatment in these patients may have limited the establishment of viral reservoirs, the extent of viral mutations and preserve immune responses. A combination of those may contribute to control infection in post-treatment controllers," prof. Christine Rouzioux (Necker Hospital and University Paris Descartes, Paris, said in a news release.

The Visconti cohort took the treatment for an average of three years. The drugs help control the spread of virus. However, researchers found that these people could control the spread of virus even after stopping the treatment. Their levels of virus were reported to be similar to Natural HIV Controllers, people who can control the growth of virus without using any drugs (these people also do not show symptoms of being infected).

"As in the case with the "Mississippi baby", early treatment initiation does not allow us to evaluate whether the VISCONTI post-treatment controllers might have naturally achieved control of infection," said Dr. Asier Sáez-Cirión from Institut Pasteur, Paris, one of the study authors.

"However, most of them do not exhibit the favorable genetic background found in natural HIV controllers and do not develop the same immune responses associated with control of infection in the latter. Moreover, whereas natural HIV controllers typically start controlling infection in primary infection, most post-treatment controllers were strongly symptomatic during this period, with levels of virus in the plasma high and similar to those of patients who will not control infection," Sáez-Cirión added.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.    

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