Hurdles Towards HIV Cure Research

In the quest to find a cure for HIV, certain obstacles have been thrown in the path of medical researchers and scientists. Then again, nothing that’s worth having is obtained without working to get it, right? Well, the first obstacle is a rather simple one: Even if an HIV-infected person has been “cured” of HIV (a functional cure, for example), how do we know that the person in question is HIV-free? After all, HIV could still lie dormant in the body at very small levels (fewer than 1 in 1 million CD4 cells), and possibly make a comeback at some point in the future.

What the Berlin Patient has taught us is that if a functional cure is obtained-such as the one that cured the Berlin Patient of his HIV infection-then it won’t really matter if HIV remains in the body at incredibly small levels. The amounts would be far too small to find them using the current technology at our disposal. Making the decision to end antiretroviral therapy (ART) depends on whether or not HIV has truly been eradicated, because as we already know, if ART is discontinued before HIV is eradicated, then it will replicate and flourish as soon as it gets the chance.

In the end, the research only goes as far as the funding allows it-which is why adequate funding for HIV/AIDS research is so important. In 2009, the United States government spent 3% of its $1.5 billion HIV/AIDS research budget on work toward finding a cure. That figure comes out to $45 million, a rather paltry sum. Supporters of HIV/AIDS cure research estimate that the recommended funding should be closer to $200 million. As a result, non-profit organizations have stepped up to take up the slack in funding with important research grants; however, more money is needed.

The most basic antiretroviral therapy regimen costs at minimum $20,000 per year-a sum that is well out of reach of most people in developed countries, let alone poorer developing ones without good access to these medications. A treatment such as the stem cell transplant that cured the Berlin Patient could cost $200,000. As technology improves, these therapies will become cheaper, but that may not happen for a decade or more. In the meantime, the work continues with the money that is currently being allocated toward the cause. Finding a cure for HIV will be a major accomplishment indeed, but until the research obstacles are solved and the proper funding is there, the cure itself will remain elusive.

Source by Alain Lafeuillade

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