Scientists on the hunt for an AIDS cure say despite a major setback, they are more inspired than ever.
Last month, two HIV positive patients believed to have been cured after bone marrow transplants had relapsed and was back onto antiretroviral treatment.
But with the obvious disappointment, comes a huge leap forward.
‘It’s a setback for the patients, of course, but an advance for the field because the field has now gained a lot more knowledge,’ Steven Deeks, a professor and HIV expert at the University of California, told Reuters.
In early 2013, after eight months of testing two men decided to stop taking drugs as they both appeared to be free of the virus.
Doctors believed it was the bone marrow transplants that lead them to believe the patients were ‘cured’.
But in December, it was revealed the men had begun to show signs of a HIV rebound by August while the second patient had a relapse in November.
Timothy Heinrich, of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who was treating the patients, said it just proves tests are simply not sensitive enough.
Current tests designed to detect even very low levels of HIV present in the body need to be more finely tuned.
Heinrich said in this situation, it proves how the virus’ comeback underlined how ingenious HIV can be in finding hiding places in the body to evade attack efforts by the immune system and by drug treatment.
‘Through this research we have discovered the HIV reservoir is deeper and more persistent than previously known and that our current standards of probing for HIV may not be sufficient,’ he said.
Some scientists now believe a two-pronged approach aiming to suppress the virus while reinforcing the immune system will be the best way of controlling HIV.
More research will be published later this year.