Today, those infected with HIV in developed countries can be treated. The drugs available curb viral loads in the blood to a degree that makes living a long life possible despite being infected with the virus. However, at the end of the day, this does not equate to a cure. The treatment only acts to contain the virus, which remains hidden in a patient’s immune cells and begins to replicate again as soon as treatment is discontinued. Finding a cure that would completely eliminate the virus remains an important goal for researchers at the DZIF. However, as an initial target, it seems that sustainable remission is within closer reach. This involves decreasing a patient’s viral loads in the blood and organs to such a degree that the patient can live comfortably without having to take expensive drugs and deal with the burden of long-term drug intake.
Making the Viruses Susceptible
The main question is how to lure the latent viruses in the body out of hiding in order to subsequently specifically target it? DZIF researchers are trying to deal with the issue of viral latency by using the “shock and kill” method, for example. Here, a combination of substances is administered to stimulate viral replication to make the virus visible to the immune system. In addition to this, research on broadly neutralising antibodies that can reduce viral loads is also important. DZIF scientists are also using gene therapeutic approaches in their pursuit of finding a cure. These approaches involve either viral genomes that are specifically excised from human DNA or the blocking of uptake receptors to prevent further spread of the infection to other cells.