amfAR joins the hunt for HIV/AIDS cure


Since the emergence of HIV/AIDS over three decades ago, researchers have made tremendous progress in finding a cure.  The discovery of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs probably remains the biggest breakthrough in the human fight against HIV and AIDS.

Today, there are 33.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide while 65 percent people are on treatment, and ARVs have transformed their lives, allowing them to lead productive lives.

For the past few years, scientists have upped the tempo and have set their sight on a complete AIDS cure. ARVs have only been able to keep the virus in check – preventing it from progressing.

That is why HIV patients are advised to continue taking the medicine, as scientists believe that the virus retreats and lies dormant inside blood cells, which rules out the possibility of a permanent cure.

There have been many promises of a cure lately. For instance towards the end of last year, during the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) gathering, scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, announced a possible breakthrough in the quest for an HIV cure.

They said they have used radio immunotherapy to destroy remaining human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected cells in the blood samples of patients treated with antiretroviral therapy, offering promise of a cure.

Other attempts have included the use of epilepsy drug, valproic acid, to try “flush out” HIV from remote areas in the body that are difficult to reach with conventional therapies.

The list is endless, which gives hope to millions of people across the globe.

And one of the world’s leading HIV NGO, the Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR), has also joined the hunt for an HIV/AIDS cure.

The foundation is dedicated to the support of HIV research, prevention and cure as well as advocate for sound AIDS-related public policy. It recently launched its “Countdown to a Cure” initiative, aimed at finding a broadly applicable cure for HIV by 2020.

“Countdown to a Cure” aims to intensify amfAR’s cure-focused HIV research programme with plans to strategically invest US$100 million in cure research over the next six years.

To reach the ambitious goal of a cure by 2020, amfAR reveals its plan to change the way it funds research by moving away from a passive investment strategy to one that will be more aggressive and focused on collaborative approaches to addressing the unanswered questions.

“Countdown to a Cure” kicked off on February 5, 2014. International media have quoted amFAR Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Robert Frost, saying although there has been debate on whether a functional cure for HIV is feasible within the foreseeable future or it is a hopeless quest robbing resources from more practical approaches to improve the lives of people living with HIV, science has advanced to the extent that there is now widespread agreement among researchers that a cure for HIV is possible—and even probable.

To help direct the research and to ensure that investments are made in the most promising areas, Frost said amfAR will establish a ‘Cure Council,’ a volunteer group comprising some of the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers to deal with the matter.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has become one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges. Efforts to cure HIV in the past have been thwarted by the virus’s ability to lie dormant inside blood cells without being detected.

In a report published October 24, 2013, in the journal Cell, investigators found a new obstacle that could hinder current efforts to find a cure for the immune-compromising disease.

The investigators reveal that the virus is currently hiding in certain cells of the body, which represents a significant barrier to a cure.

The objective of the “Countdown to a Cure for HIV/AIDS” research initiative is to understand this mechanism in order to eliminate the cells that harbours the virus in the presence of antiretroviral therapy and eradicate or control HIV infection

Dr Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research, was also quoted saying that amfAR has established a “research roadmap” that identifies the four steps necessary to clear this roadblock: chart the precise locations of the reservoirs; understand how HIV persists within them; record how much virus they hold; and, finally, eliminate the virus.

Since its founding nearly 30 years ago, amfAR has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research, and was the first organisation to aggressively pursue cure-focused HIV research.

In 2010, the Foundation launched the amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE), which supports collaborative teams of scientists at leading research institutions around the world in a directed effort to explore potential strategies for eliminating HIV infection.

The case of “The Berlin Patient,” first reported in 2008, was a watershed moment in the field of HIV research and a proof of principle that a cure was possible.

In 2013, researchers funded by amfAR were able to document the first case of a child to be cured, and a group of patients in France were reported to be in sustained remission (still HIV positive, but off treatment for several years with no sign of disease progression). 

February 2014
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