The team of a Montreal virologist has taken a step towards curing HIV thanks to infected end-of-life people who donated their bodies to science.
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This discovery, which could one day lead to the complete elimination of HIV in an infected person, will be presented at an important international AIDS conference being held in the metropolis this week.
“Although we have gone from being a fatal disease to a chronic disease, if treated, the life expectancy of those with HIV is still about 10 years less than the average person without HIV. infected”, underlines the Dr Éric A. Cohen, director of the human retrovirology laboratory at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM).
It’s that the virus is practically silent, but not completely.
“It hides in cells – which we call reservoirs”, continues the one who is also a professor of virology at the University of Montreal.
Photo Erika Aubin
A researcher is in the level three lab. She must wear a full protective suit to set foot there.
Hiding in certain organs, the virus causes chronic inflammation that can lead to long-term kidney damage, cardiovascular or cognitive complications and cancer, for example.
The Canadian Consortium for HIV Cure Research (CanCURE), led by Dr.r Cohen, was able to map the reservoirs thanks to two people living with AIDS who received medical assistance in dying for a completely different reason, in Ottawa and Edmonton.
“We would be unable to have access to tissues under other conditions than these. We are trying to find out in which tissue the virus is hiding, their particularities. Is it silent in some fabrics and not in others?” he explains.
Eric A. Cohen is excited to have his team present these first two cases as part of the 24e International AIDS Conference. This is the culmination of three years of research.
“We are at a stage of advancing knowledge. Before arriving at a complete cure, you have to understand all the facets of the problem,” he summarizes.
In its level three laboratory, which has very high security requirements, the Dr Cohen is working on approaches to control and reduce the size of these infamous reservoirs. The ultimate goal is to find a drug that would completely eliminate them.
In the future five to six years from now, he believes that scientific advances will allow people living with HIV to be in remission, that is, they could stop taking their medication for a while without complications. .
No less than 38 million individuals live with this virus throughout the world.
Some important dates
1983 | Discovery
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is identified by Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, from the Institut Pasteur in Paris. It earned them the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008. The first cases were however described in the United States in 1981.
1989 | Conference in Montreal
Demonstrators finding that we were not concerned enough about the pandemic made a splash at the fifth international conference on AIDS, in Montreal.
“There had been [kiosques] and destroyed posters. It was much more eventful at the time, ”says the Dr Eric A. Cohen.
1996 | Medication
The arrival of two new classes of inhibitor drugs marks a turning point in the fight against AIDS. This is the start of combination antiretrovirals, which makes it much harder for the virus to adapt to three drugs, says Dr.r Cohen. Triple therapies are very effective.
2008 | A cure
Timothy Ray Brown, nicknamed the patient from Berlin, became the first man to be completely cured of AIDS. Three more healings followed, according to Dr.r Cohen. “We have had proof that it is possible. It generated a lot of interest among scientists,” he says.
However, these people had leukemia and had stem cell transplants, a risky and invasive procedure. However, it is difficult to generalize such treatments.
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