Image: Aarhus Univ.Hopes for developing a cure for HIV are rising as trials with 15 HIV patients at Aarhus Univ. Hospital look very promising.

Researchers at Aarhus Univ. and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Aarhus Univ. Hospital are holding their breath right now. In a series of tests on patients, the researchers are currently trying out a completely new method. If everything goes as they hope, this could mean that HIV infection could ultimately be cured.

The first test results will be presented at an international conference in Malaysia this summer. This is such a ground-breaking project that the Danish Council for Strategic Research has granted the researchers more than DKK 12 million to carry out their trials to find an actual cure for HIV.

“It’s important to emphasize that we’re at an early stage in our work to develop a cure for HIV, and it will probably take many years before such a cure will be readily available. Taking precautions to avoid HIV infection is therefore still necessary, of course, and HIV patients must continue to take their medication as always,” says Senior Scientist Ole Søgaard, Aarhus Univ. and Aarhus Univ. Hospital.

Can a new substance coax HIV into exposing itself?

There is currently no treatment that can get rid of the HIV virus once it has entered the body and has very soon encapsulated itself in some of the cells, where it becomes dormant.
However, the Aarhus researchers have now found a substance – an HDAC inhibitor – that appears to be capable of activating the HIV virus again. They hope this will coax the cells containing the HIV virus to expose themselves. This will make them vulnerable to the body’s immune system, which can then make an attack.

“Laboratory experiments look so promising that I’m almost sure we can succeed in getting the human cells with the encapsulated HIV virus to expose themselves. The question is whether the patient’s immune system can recognize the virus and kill it. This will depend on the strength of the immune system, and how vigorously the virus is exposed,” says Søgaard.

HIV infection is currently treated with a combination of pharmaceuticals that block the viral activity, but are unable to remove the infection. This means that people infected with HIV have to continue treatment for the rest of their lives, with human, health-related and health-economic consequences.