Regular holidays from HIV drugs may help the immune system control the virus on its own, at least in monkeys. These findings, reported in the 24 November 2000 issue of the international journal, Science, raise hopes for finding a cheaper, simpler, and better-tolerated method of treating HIV than the current regimen.
Researchers cautioned, however, that people with HIV should never stop taking their medications except on the advice of a physician.
"More research is necessary to learn how these findings could work in a clinical setting," said lead author Franco Lori of the Research Institute for Genetic and Human Therapy in Washington, DC.
But, he added, "Our results suggest that patients might be able to take fewer drugs, which is an attractive possibility in itself. On top of that, it seems we can stimulate the immune system to better control the virus, which is a completely different way of looking at treatment."
The current approach to treating HIV involves a complex "cocktail" of drugs called HAART (for Highly Active Antiretroviral Treatment). While HAART usually keeps the virus in check over the long term, it frequently causes side effects and requires careful attention to a rigorous regimen of pills. HAART is also prohibitively expensive for many patients.
If patients stop taking HAART, the virus typically resumes its attack on the immune system. There are some exceptions, however, such as the "Berlin patient," who interrupted his therapy several times, and then stopped it altogether. His immune system has continued to suppress the virus on its own.
Since identifying the Berlin patient, Lori and Science coauthor Julianna Lisziewicz of the Research Institute for Genetic and Human Therapy have been investigating whether periodically interrupting therapy in other patients might fortify their immune systems as well.
Lori, Lisziewicz, and their colleagues infected rhesus macaques with the monkey version of HIV. Using
Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science