There no cure that we can routinely give to people, Johnston says, but there has been one man, “The Berlin Patient,” who was cured of HIV. “He had both HIV and leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant for the cancer which ended up clearing HIV from his body because his donor had a certain genetic mutation,” Johnston says. Obviously, this was a unique situation and it can’t be replicated, Johnston says, “but it was very promising because it showed the world that yes, it is possible to cure this virus.”
Right now, some of the cure research is focusing on how to eliminate the latent HIV “reservoir,” or the cells that are still infected with HIV but are not actively producing new viruses (these cells still exist in undetectable people). “If we can find a way to eliminate the reservoir, possibly by reactivating the virus so it comes out of ‘hiding’ and we can kill it, then we could possibly cure HIV — but the reservoir is hard to touch, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Rizza says.
There is no vaccine to prevent or treat HIV/AIDS either, but researchers have been working on developing one since 1987 and they aren’t stopping anytime soon. “I am optimistic — there is such an explosion of information and understanding of HIV and we have such dedicated communities that I really think we’re going to make incredible strides in the next five, ten years,” Johnston says.
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