The ability of the HIV virus to mutate all the time is proving to be the most outstanding stumbling block for scientists to get the much-awaited HIV cure, researcher Dr Zaza Ndhlovu, Africa Health Research Institute, South Africa has said.
Ndhlovu said this unique aspect of the virus, where it can even go into 'sleeping mode', different from other viruses, is reason why even the body’s natural immune system is unable to see the infection to fight it off like it does with other diseases.
He said researchers are studying ways on how to re-awaken the sleeping HIV in patient cells to eliminate the virus, but there are fears that waking up the HIV cells in the body can cause other health concerns such as cancer among the infected people.
“I advised researchers to look for a formula that wakes up only cells that need to wake up to avoid causing other problems like cancer,” he said at the HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) conference in Madrid, Spain this week.
He added that in order to cure HIV, drugs need to kill all the cells in the body which is nearly impossible since the virus hides in some parts of the body where drug regiments can’t reach.
“There are some parts in the body where other cells are not allowed to go because they don’t have the right key to enter there. HIV cure drugs are also failing because the HIV virus attacks the CD4 count first and kills cells yet it's cells that help other cells to work better and make anti-bodies,” he said.
“But when the CD4 count are killed first and leave body without guards, it makes it easy for opportunistic diseases to attack people and they die. It is very difficult to cure HIV, because it means all the viruses in your body can be eliminated which is impossible,” Ndhlovu added.
More than 35 million people have died of HIV-related illnesses, and another 37 million people are now living with HIV worldwide. Dr Fauci Anthony, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, United States said getting the HIV cure is still is far from certain and there are no guarantees that a cure will ever be got.
“Every time I predict to get the cure, I end up being wrong. But the current prevention methods that are explored should be properly implemented,” he said.
Dr Pepe Alcamí, the Spanish AIDS Research Network coordinator at Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid said right now, the available HIV drugs try "to anticipate" the infection and provoke the synthesis of antibodies in the host.
“We don't know the date a preventive HIV vaccine will be fully developed. It is impossible to predict the speed of scientific progress. Perhaps it will take many years but may be tomorrow in one of the hundreds of labs working on this issue a brilliant and different idea will be the germ of a successful vaccine,” he said.
He recommended people to continue protecting themselves from infection by using condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among others.