New compounds to flush out HIV reservoirs are being discovered, and an HIV cure may be on the horizon within the next 2 decades. Although antiretroviral therapy (ART) is able to stop disease progression, new kind of drugs are needed if scientists want to eradicate the virus because it remains silent is the so-called HIV reservoirs during ART.
HIV, short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS, an incurable disease that is one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide, with millions of people dying from the disease yearly. HIV is mainly transmitted through practicing unsafe sex, sharing contaminated needles, breast milk, and perinatally, meaning from an infected mother to her child at birth.
Much research has been done to find a cure for this infection. Only a single instance of an HIV patient being cured of the infection has been documented so far. A man affected with the virus living in Berlin received a bone marrow transplant for the purpose of treating his leukemia, which seems to have also wiped out his HIV infection. However, while this is promising in terms of HIV cure research, this patient’s treatment has not been deemed viable for other HIV/AIDS patients yet. One of the reasons it has been so difficult to find a cure is that HIV reservoirs are so persistent. Thankfully, there is a lot of promising research being done on new compounds to flush out HIV reservoirs.
An HIV reservoir is an area of the body in which the virus builds up and persists with a higher level of stability than the main pool of the virus, which is continuously and actively being replicated. Researchers have identified many sites of latent HIV reservoirs, and they are using this research to discover new compounds to flush out HIV reservoirs. They are considered latent when the cells that contain the virus are not active but have the capacity to actively produce the virus when reactivated. These are the types of cells that have been so hard to eradicate.
Current ART is able to stop the virus from replicating in the blood, but is unable to reach these latent reservoirs of HIV-infected cells. With the new research that is being done, however, eradication may be within our reach one day. Researchers are studying how to transform the latent virus into an active one, and in one study, they discovered 17 compounds that showed positive results. The most promising one of these compounds, 5HN, was able to reactivate the latent HIV without triggering global activation of the T-cells, which can lead to toxicity. The findings of this study are a good sign that researchers will be able to identify new compounds to flush out HIV reservoirs and finally discover a way to cure HIV completely.