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Italian doctor's HIV cure hope

8th June 2009

Hopes of an HIV cure have been revived with the discovery of a new technique.

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The technique appears to eradicate copies of the virus that lie dormant in the cells of sufferers.

The technique may bring science closer to a cure for the disease.

Enrico Garaci of the Italian Institute of Health, who led the research team, worked on the so-called "barrier of latency".

The barrier of latency has been the main obstacle facing researchers looking for HIV cures.

When cells harbour dormant HIV, the virus can persist in them while therapy continues.

The new treatment is believed to make it possible to use a drug type known as histone deacetylases. These chemicals keep HIV in its dormant state, but have never worked for patients due to the high dosage required.

Savarino and his team tried adding buthionine sulfoximine to the treatment, activating infected cells at lower doses.

The approach has earned the moniker 'shock and kill' because the cells die after being awakened by the buthionine sulfoximine cocktail.

Savarino said that he hopes this study may open new avenues to the development of weapons able to eliminate the HIV-infected cells from the body.

He said that such methods might allow people living with HIV/AIDS to get rid of the virus.

He said that there are testable drug combinations composed of molecules that have passed phase I clinical trials for human safety.

Though HIV treatments have advanced significantly, the virus still causes many difficulties for sufferers.

Savarino said that many barriers remain to the adoption of his technique, since some scientists are skeptical about his approach.

He said that experiments using animal models will shed new light on this difficult problem.

Steve Taylor, lead consultant for HIV Services at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, said that while the finding is an intriguing and novel piece of work, caution must be given when extrapolating animal model studies into affordable treatments for the millions of HIV sufferers worldwide.

He said that his fellow researchers are currently focusing their efforts on trying to diagnose the one third of people currently infected with HIV living in the UK who are unaware that they are infected, and who do not have the opportunity to receive life-saving treatment and may continue to infect others.

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