COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Monday May 6, 2013 – Despite the unflagging efforts of dedicated professionals, the Caribbean still has the world’s second highest incidence of HIV/AIDS behind Sub-Saharan Africa, with the disease remaining among the top five causes of death for the region in the 20-49-year age group.
Fifty new HIV infections are said to take place in the Caribbean daily and 33 deaths are recorded, and while infection rates are stabilised and decreasing in some countries, increasing patterns have been observed in others including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Belize.
Against this backdrop comes welcome news out of Denmark where researchers say a cure for human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS, may be within reach.
According to The Telegraph, the scientists are conducting a clinical trial to test a “novel strategy” in which the HIV virus is “reactivated” from its hiding place within human DNA and potentially destroyed permanently by the immune system.
The scientists are currently conducting human trials on their treatment, in the hope of proving that it is effective. It has already been found to work in laboratory tests.
The technique involves unmasking the “reservoirs” formed by the HIV virus inside resting immune cells, bringing it to the surface of the cells. Once it comes to the surface, the body’s natural immune system may be able to kill the virus.
In vitro studies of the new technique proved so successful that in January the Danish Research Council awarded the team 12 million Danish kroner (about US$2 million) to pursue their findings in clinical trials with human subjects.
These are now underway, and according to Dr Ole Søgaard, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and part of the research team, the early signs are “promising”.
“I am almost certain that we will be successful in activating HIV from the reservoirs,” he said.
“The challenge will be getting the patients’ immune system to recognise the virus and destroy it. This depends on the strength and sensitivity of individual immune systems, as well as how large a proportion of the hidden HIV is unmasked.”
Fifteen patients are currently taking part in the trials, and the first results from the trial are expected to be presented in the second half of 2013.
Dr Søgaard stressed that a cure is not the same as a preventative vaccine, and that raising awareness of unsafe behaviour, including unprotected sex and sharing needles, remains of paramount importance in combating HIV. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)