HIV and AIDS were two of the major viral boogeymen of the ’90s, but although there’sin treating the disease, a cure seemed out of reach. But there have been two major breakthroughs recently that might make HIV an endangered species.
The first is that for the second time, a baby has been completely cured of HIV. The process was pretty simple: Immediately put the baby into treatment, right after birth, according to CBS News:
The mom was given AIDS drugs during labor to try to prevent transmission of the virus, and Deveikis started the baby on them a few hours after birth. Tests later confirmed she had been infected, but does not appear to be now, nearly a year later. The baby is continuing treatment, is in foster care “and looking very healthy,” Bryson said.
Exposing newborns to retroviral cocktails is risky, of course, but it beats them having to live with, and potentially die from, HIV. It also helps researchers understand possible treatments for other, more grown, individuals; if immediate treatment on exposure can kill the virus, that might be a clue to more prevention and a wider cure.
Meanwhile, we might also see an HIV vaccine sooner than was thought possible. There’s a very promising treatment that’s just been tested on mice, according to PBS, and is an odd riff on the concept of a vaccine:
University of Miami researchers attached a copy of the HIV virus to an immune cell using a protein (CD40). The hope is to enable the T-cells to “see” the HIV virus before it attacks them, rally the troops, and produce killer T cells, the body’s specialized virus hit-men, to wipe out the virus. Stone tested this technique in mice. He found that the mice resisted infection, even they were exposed to 10 million viruses, according to the study.
This is important in more ways than one. HIV/AIDS research has meant billions poured into studying the immune system and developing new techniques to deal with dangerous viruses, and it means we have a far better understanding of the immune system now; how to bolster it, its weaknesses, and how we can fill in the gaps.
In short, we might not only wipe out a terrible disease that kills far too many people, but we might also push forward medical science in new ways. Although we should probably keep a few vials of HIV around, just so we can use it to kill cancer.