The HIV and AIDS epidemic began in the United States in the 1980s. Cases of patients dying from unusual infections baffled doctors. Soon, a diagnosis was made: HIV.
Scientists have been working to find a way to stop the disease from spreading. Many advances have been made in slowing down the progression of HIV. However, a cure still eludes researchers.
Find out where HIV treatment is now and where it’s going.
Several classes of HIV medications exist today.
- Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs) disable a protein in your body in order to prevent HIV from making copies of itself in your cells.
- Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) give HIV faulty building blocks so it can’t make copies of itself in your cells.
- Protease inhibitors (PIs) disables an enzyme the virus needs to complete construction of HIV.
- Entry or fusion inhibitors prevent HIV from entering your CD4 cells. HIV hunts down and destroys your body’s CD4 cells, a type of immune cell.
- Integrase inhibitors. Without the protein integrase, HIV cannot insert itself into your CD4 cells. This medicine prevents the release of integrase.
We’ve used vaccines to almost eliminate many killer diseases, including polio, small pox, and yellow fever. Why not use a vaccine to eliminate HIV too? It’s a goal researchers have, but they’re still several years off from a vaccine that’s safe for everyone to use.
In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Virology found that a vaccine prevented about 31 percent of new infections. However, further research was stopped due to dangerous risks.
In early 2013, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) stopped a clinical trial that was testing injections of the HVTN 505 vaccine. Data from the trial indicated the vaccine did not prevent HIV, nor did it reduce the amount of HIV in the blood.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may have discovered a way to clean cells of the HIV virus. The HIV virus hides in a cell’s capsid, the part of the cell that stores genetic material. Using high-powered supercomputers, researchers may be able to create a formula for revealing the hidden HIV in a cell’s capsid.
If science can crack the capsid, the cell can release the HIV, and then the body can attack the HIV to kill it. It’s a promising frontier in HIV treatment and cure, but it’s only been tested in computers so far.
Most of the drugs used to treat HIV today work to prevent HIV from getting all the building blocks it needs to multiply. A maturation inhibitor would block the last steps of HIV cell creation. So far, a treatment to stop virus maturation does not exist. Combined with a protease inhibitor or other inhibitor, a maturation inhibitor has the ability to severely limit HIV’s life cycle.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is designed to prevent the transmission of HIV in high-risk populations. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that almost half of drug users who inject drugs into their body prevented an HIV diagnosis with the use of PrEP. The more consistent you are with taking your medicine, the higher the level of your protection against HIV.
In early 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that a two-year-old child in Mississippi who was born to an HIV-positive mother had been “functionally cured” of HIV.
Doctors administered antiretroviral treatment during the infant’s first day. The baby remained on the antiretroviral therapy for the first 18 months of life, and doctors performed regular blood tests to check the levels of HIV.
Ten months after stopping medication, the baby is still HIV free as far as the tests can detect. The child continues to lead a normal life and doesn’t show any virus in its blood. Therefore, many researchers have determined the child is “functionally cured.”
Thirty years ago, researchers barely understood HIV, let alone how to treat or cure it. Over the decades, advances in technology and medical capabilities have brought more advanced HIV treatments.
Medicine can now slow the progression of HIV and prevent moms from sharing the virus with their children. Targeted drug therapy can decrease a person’s viral load to almost undetectable levels.
Each year, hundreds of clinical trials aim to find better treatments for HIV. Hopefully, they’ll one day find a cure too.