In a new study, drug treatment interruptions have for the first time been shown to boost HIV-specific immune responses in chronically infected patients as compared to a matched control group. Indeed, one patient in the study who had stopped taking medication was able to control his viral infection without drugs for at least four months after reinitiating and then permanently stopping drug therapy. A report on the findings by scientists at The Wistar Institute appears in the September issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
The current standard of care for HIV patients involves combinations of three or four drugs that suppress the virus, often to undetectable levels. Although highly effective, the therapeutic regimen is demanding and accompanied by sometimes debilitating side effects.
Other more sustainable approaches to treatment for HIV infection are needed, and the new findings suggest that HIV patients may be able to use structured treatment interruptions (STI) as a tool to strengthen their immune systems, perhaps dramatically. The clinical implications could be significant, and a clinical trial is currently recruiting volunteers to test the concept.
The hypothesis behind STI is that, following the immune recovery seen in patients under drug treatment, a controlled stop-and-start strategy might coax the immune system to develop an increasing capacity to control HIV infection. The approach offers the possibility that continuous drug therapy could someday become a thing of the past. Todays means - drugs - might become a mere agent to manage the real hero - the immune system - to effect the end: continuous suppression or, ultimately, eradication of HIV.
"While many patients would benefit from
occasional breaks from drug therapy and its
side effects, we are pursuing whether short
interruptions in therapy can also act to
instruct the i
Contact: Marion Wyce
The Wistar Institute