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Combination Therapy Treatment Neutralizes HIV

European researchers have discovered that they can successfully neutralize the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A study conducted by Professor Jens Lundgren and his colleagues from the EuroSIDA research group shows that a long term treatment of HIV-infected patients with the combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) effectively restores their immune function levels to levels similar to those found in healthy individuals.
Stylized display of a cross section of the human immunodeficiency virus (Credit: University of Copenhagen)
Stylized display of a cross section of the
human immunodeficiency virus
(Credit: University of Copenhagen)

Viruses don’t have an independent metabolism. Therefore, they attack living cells and adopt their metabolism. In most instances of viruses’ penetrations to the human body, our immune system attacks and eliminates the invading virus. However, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is deadly, as it attacks the immune system itself, thereby weakening the body’s ability to counteract viruses.

The HIV attaches itself to a crucial part of the immune system, the CD4+ T-lymphocytes, which are white blood corpuscles that participate in fighting infections. The HIV forms and invades new CD4+ T-lymphocytes. Consequently, the number of healthy CD4+ T-lymphocytes in the blood decreases and the immune system declines and can’t defend the body from the infection or prevent viruses’ attacks. Finally, the condition of the immune system deteriorates to such an extent that the infected patient is diagnosed with AIDS. The HIV mutates constantly as it forms and for this reason scientists constantly battle to find a cure or vaccine.

EuroSIDA is a long-standing European collaborative study led by Professor Jens Lundgren from the University of Copenhagen. The study aims to assess the impact of antiretroviral drugs o­n the general population of HIV-infected patients. An analysis of EuroSIDA shows that maintaining a combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), which prevents the virus from forming and mutating in human beings, enables normalization of the immune system.

In the framework of the study, 1,835 HIV positive patients who responded well to long term therapy with cART were analyzed. The researchers found that the sharpest yearly increase in the patients’ CD4 cell count was in the first year of cART treatment and more moderate in the following years. The study also demonstrated that patients who started the cART with a very low CD4 cell count, as well as most patients who maintained a low viral load, continued to have significant rises in their CD4 cell counts even after five years of cART treatment. For this reason, the researchers claim that normalization of CD4 counts in the blood of HIV-infected patients can be obtained provided that viral suppression with the cART treatment is maintained for a sufficiently long period of time.

Prof. Jens D. Lundgren (Credit: Copenhagen HIV Program)
Professor Jens D. Lundgren
(Credit: Copenhagen HIV Program)

When the virus’s progress is halted, the number of healthy CD4+ T cells begins to rise, and patients who would otherwise die from HIV, can survive. If the combination therapy is maintained, the immune system is rejuvenated and is apparently able to normalize itself. As the immune system improves, the HIV-infected patient is not referred to as suffering from HIV. Although a patient on cART still has HIV, the improvement of his immune system means that he is no longer displaying the symptoms of the virus.

To date, cART represents the most significant treatment for patients suffering from HIV. If its costs and side effects are reasonable, it may bring a ray of hope to HIV patients, enabling them to maintain healthy habits and practice safe sex.

Other HIV-related issues previously covered by TFOT include the hypothesis that HIV is caused by co-infection of two HIV strains, and the discovery of a protein thatenables the fusion of the virus’s membrane with the host cell’s membrane.

More information on the EuroSIDA study is available on the Copenhagen HIV Program website.