A British man could become the first person in the world to be cured of HIV using a new therapy designed by a team of scientists from five UK universities.
The 44-year-old is one of 50 people currently trialing a treatment which targets the disease even in its dormant state.
Scientists told The Sunday Times that presently the virus is completely undetectable in the man’s blood, although that could be a result of regular drugs. However if the dormant cells are also cleared out it could represent the first complete cure.
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” said Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure in UK.
“We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
The trial is being undertaken by researchers from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London.
HIV is so difficult to treat because it targets the immune system, splicing itself into the DNA of T-cells so that they not only ignore the disease, but turn into viral factories which reproduce the virus.
Current treatments, called anti-retroviral therapies (Art), target that process but they cannot spot dormant infected T-cells.
The new therapy works in two stages. Firstly, a vaccine helps the body recognise the HIV-infected cells so it can clear them out. Secondly, a new drug called Vorinostat activates the dormant T-cells so they can be spotted by the immune system.
More than 100,000 people in Britain are living with HIV, around 17 per cent of whom do not know they have the disease, and 37 million are infected worldwide.
The first unidentified patient, a social care worker in London, said: “It would be great if a cure has happened. My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus.
“I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself. It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease. The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible.”