The immunodeficiency syndrome AIDS, caused by HIV infection, ranks amongst the top ten causes of death worldwide. Antiviral therapies make the disease treatable, enabling longer life expectancy and decreases the rate of new infections. However, even in long-term treatment the virus remains in the body and becomes reactivated when treatment is discontinued. To date, neither curative drugs nor preventive vaccines are available despite intensive studies. Different virus subtypes and virus variability hamper the development of such drugs and therapies.
At the DZIF, scientists concentrate their research on both remission and cure, i.e. reducing viral loads and reservoirs. One research area is early infection, as the likelihood of remission or cure is higher when the virus has been in the body for a short time only. In the projects, DZIF scientists follow gene therapeutic approaches, such as specific excision of the virus genome from human DNA. Other studies investigate viral latency: how can latent viruses hidden in the body be lured out of hiding so that they can be targeted specifically? Broadly neutralising antibodies that reduce viral loads in HIV infection constitute another important area of research.