A fraction of HIV-infected people in the world have been found to be able to cure themselves without the help of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, revealed a new study.
A study, titled ‘Distinct viral reservoirs in individuals with spontaneous control of HIV-1’, accessed by ScienceNews, said an analysis of more than 1.5 billion cells taken from a patient showed no functional human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) copies in any of them. A second patient had just one functional copy of HIV in more than 1 billion blood cells analysed, reported
The two patients were part of a rare group of people, who account for less than 0.5 percent of all HIV infections, known as 'elite controllers'. These people are able to maintain very low or undetectable levels of HIV without ARV drugs and have no symptoms or clear signs of damage from the virus in their bodies.
However, for the rest of the 99.5 percent or more of the world’s 35 million people infected with HIV, drugs are the only way to keep the virus down.
In the study, the researchers examined the HIV viruses embedded in DNA from 64 elite controllers and 41 HIV-infected people taking ARV drugs.
The elite controllers had maintained undetectable levels of the virus without drugs from one to, in EC2’s case, 24 years while the median was nine years, the report stated.
Monica Roth, a virologist at Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway said that in most HIV infected people, the virus lands near or in genes. But in the elite controllers, the virus was trapped in gene-poor parts of the human genetic instruction book, or genome, Roth told the publication. Collectively those inactive, tightly guarded parts of the genome are known as heterochromatin.
According to researchers, the elite controllers not just luckily got the HIV trapped in heterochromatin but their immune systems eliminated cells producing functional virus, leaving behind only broken copies of the virus and intact versions locked in there, said the report.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body's immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Currently, there is no effective cure for this.
The in-depth genomic analysis of these rare individuals, or elite controllers, reveals a clue to their success, which scientists hope will ultimately lead to new strategies to corral the virus in others.