See Inside November 2008

25 Years Later: Can HIV Be Cured?

Eliminating HIV from the body would require flushing the virus out of its hiding places and preventing those reservoirs from being refilled. A tall order but perhaps not impossible

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In contrast to the failed attempts at developing a vaccine against HIV, efforts to provide drug therapies stand as a great success. More than 25 agents have been approved thus far, and the right combinations can suppress replication of the virus, often keeping blood levels so low as to be undetectable by standard tests. These powerful drug cocktails, collectively termed highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, have prolonged life and health in countless infected individuals. Yet vexingly, today’s treatments cannot actually cure the infection. If for any reason therapy is interrupted, the virus rapidly rebounds.

Figuring out how HIV manages to hang around in the company of these potent drugs is one of the most important tasks currently facing researchers. Over the past decade investigators have gleaned key insights into this mystery. The answers, we hope, will ultimately reveal whether complete eradication of the virus in a patient is feasible.

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