The first results of a study out of the UK are raising the tantalizing possibility that researchers have figured not just how to treat HIV but how to actually cure it. The first of 50 patients to undergo the experimental therapy, a 44-year-old British social worker, has no detectable traces of the virus in his blood, reports the Sunday Times. The team of scientists from the UK's leading universities say it's way too early to claim success, but they're clearly optimistic. "We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV,” says Mark Samuels of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure. “This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
The treatment is kind of a one-two punch, explains Medical Daily. First, it uses standard antiretroviral drugs, the type used by today's HIV patients to keep the virus from reproducing and thus remain in check. But, crucially, it then does something those ART drugs cannot do—it eliminates dormant cells that lie in hiding. (Those dormant cells are the reason HIV treatment is currently a lifelong prospect.) The Guardian reports that the second phase of the treatment, involving a drug called Vorinostat, aims to "trick the virus into emerging from its hiding places" so it can be wiped out. For the first patient, at least, it seems to have worked, but researchers say they must monitor his health for years before making definitive claims—because previous hopes about "cures" proved to be false ones.