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Game-changer in the fight against AIDS?

By Jaccii Farris, Reporter, JFarris@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 06 2014 05:07:26 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 06 2014 06:10:55 PM CST

Some major breakthroughs in HIV and AIDS research are changing the conversation among medical experts.

Some major breakthroughs in HIV and AIDS research are changing the conversation among medical experts.

For the first time, the words cure and vaccine are part of the dialogue.

Experts say these new discoveries are medical game changers.

"We believe we may have a cure before we have the vaccine," said Dr. Marcelo Gareca with Lehigh Valley Health Network.

It's a comment no doctor would have uttered five years ago.

But this week at the HIV/AIDS conference in Boston, major medical breakthroughs were revealed.

A vaccine that triggers the immune system in mice to kill the AIDS virus was introduced out of the University of Miami.

In Los Angeles, a second baby was recently believed to be cured of HIV with the use of drugs at birth, and at the University of Pennsylvania, a gene modification advancement that could allow HIV patients to be able to resist the AIDS virus.

"Some of these studies that are being done, we are seeing at least hopeful signs and hopeful evidence that cure could be on the horizon," said Dr. Pete Ender with St. Luke's University Hospital.

But why a cure before a vaccine? Because the virus is constantly mutating, infecting millions globally.

"And there are many strains throughout the world," said Gareca.

It would have to be a vaccine that would knock all of the HIV viruses out.

Gareca says researchers have been able to pinpoint reservoirs where HIV hides in the body, the last frontier being bone marrow.

Now much of the research is focused on how to remove the virus.

But for now, patients must rely on medication.

Ender says over the years, doctors have taken the disease from a death sentence to a chronic illness with the development of new drugs.

"The hope is that we can have a preventative strategy rather than a treatment strategy," said Ender.

Researchers say it will be years before any of these discoveries could be developed for patient use.