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HIV - CURE OR CRASH???


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HIV is a dreadful disease attacking almost 35 million people across the world. It can be controlled but not cured. But a new study has seen that some rarer people may be able to cure off the disease by themselves.


There is a treatment for HIV called antiretroviral therapy( ART). It is a combination of HIV medicines, given for a longer life. When a retrovirus infects the body, it produces multiple complete copies of their genetic material in the cells, creating reservoirs where HIV sustains and as HIV once dwells can create new copies of its viral genome. If ART is stopped the intact viral genome integrates with cell genomes and starts making new viral copies leading to disease progression. ART cannot cure the disease but helps the IV people live a longer life.


The virus reservoir has always been a problem to find a cure. Yu’s group (Ragon group) carried out research on a certain group of HIV people called elite controllers by using next-generation sequencing, and mapped the locations of complete HIV genomes. Interestingly these genomes were found in places called gene deserts where the human DNA is never turned on, and HIV cannot integrate and remains in a dormant or inactive state and there is no signs of disease progressions as the viral genome is blocked.


This seems very unorthodox as most of the people living with HIV-1, the virus is located in active human genes where viruses can reproduce. So the researchers, to further understand, collected cells from these elite controllers and infected them in vitro. Their studies showed that the virus integrated with the active cell genome, not in the gene deserts. This intrigued the researchers and maybe elite controller’s immune system is the answer.


The T-cell mediated immune system of the elite controllers were put to test, and checked the virus control, without medication and they could observe the virus was undetectable by standard assays. Taking this if the researchers can activate the T cell immunity, present in elite controllers they might find a cure to overcome the viral reservoirs present in the active human genome, stopping the disease.


Some Interesting facts found during the study- One participant known as EC2, he had no functional HIV copies in about 1.5 billion cells. A second person EC1 had just one functional copy of HIV in 1 billion blood cells when analysed, it was stuck in a sort of prison of matrix cells, indicating that the immune system has some role to play in these people to control the virus.

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