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A groups of scientists in Melbourne are this morning claiming to have unlocked what they think could be the key to curing HIV.
In the medical journal Cell, the scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute say they have cured an infection similar to HIV in mice by boosting their immune system using a synthetic version of a hormone that occurs naturally in the body.
“We are very optimistic that we should be able to find a cure for HIV in 10 to 15 years,” lead researcher Dr Marc Pellegrini told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.
He said an injection given to HIV patients either every three days or once a week for a month – dependent upon the strength of the medication – could cure the patient of HIV and other viral infections like hepatitis B and C, and bacterial infections such as tuberculosis.
The breakthrough centres on a hormone called interlukin-7 (IL-7), which occurs naturally in low levels in the body’s immune system.
“Viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C overwhelm the immune system, leading to the establishment of chronic infections that are life-long and incurable,” Dr Pellegrini said.
Dr Pellegrini’s team infected mice with a virus which mimics HIV. Some were then injected with IL-7 over three weeks, and the rest given an alternative.
The researchers found that the T cell numbers in the mice given IL-7 were boosted dramatically after 30 days — and after 60 days they were clear of the virus.
Positive Life NSW Executive Officer Rob Lake said the announcement was encouraging.
“Immune boosting therapies have great potential for future HIV treatments,” he told the Star Observer.
“Should this initial research in mice prove itself to be effective and safe in humans, it could offer major additional treatment options for people with HIV in years to come.”
Dr Pellegrini hopes to begin trials on newly infected HIV patients within two years.