Thanks to pioneering research by scientists of the University Hospital UZ Gent, the cure for HIV patients is one step closer. The study identified where "residual virus" is found in the body during treatment.
"In combination with immunotherapy, this breakthrough can help ensure that HIV patients can be declared virus-free within 10 years," says Professor Linos Vandekerckhove of UZ Gent.
Worldwide, an estimated number of 37 million people is infected with the HIV virus. In the Netherlands, an estimated 18,900 people suffer from the disease. HIV is no longer seen as a deadly disease, but as a chronic condition thanks to medication that has evolved enormously in recent years.
Yet, a huge stigma about HIV infection remains. In addition to this, the immune system remains affected. HIV patients are more at risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Thanks to researchers Dr. Marie-Angelique De Scheerder and Prof. Linos Vandekerckhove from UZ Gent, science is now one step closer to an HIV cure. To be considered cured, a small amount of residual virus that remains in the body when sticking to a therapy regime must be removed, but that is not possible as long as we do not know where the residual virus is hiding.
“Our study shows that the "residual virus" does not hide in one specific organ or cell type, but can come from different cell types and body parts. We have succeeded in "mapping out the enemy," De Scheerder and Vandekerckhove clarify.
11 HIV patients voluntarily participated in the study. In the first phase, samples were taken from these patients to examine the virus in different cells and body parts. In the next phase, the treatment of these patients was briefly interrupted. The patients, however, were carefully monitored. When the virus returned, the virus that came back was compared to the virus from the samples of the different cells and body parts. In this way, it was possible to identify where the residual virus was hiding.