Researchers say they have found a rare group of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who have tested positive for HIV antibodies but live with low to undetectable levels of viral load without antiretroviral drugs, potentially paving the way for vaccine development or even cure.
Abbott said in a news release Tuesday that the prevalence of this group, called HIL elite controllers, was 2.7% -4.3% in the DRC, compared with 0.1% -2% worldwide. The findings of the study, published in EBioMedicine, may help uncover the links between natural suppression of the virus and future treatments.
“The discovery of a large group of elite HIV controllers in the DRC is important, given that HIV is a chronic lifelong disease that usually progresses over time,”
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Abbott has been involved in HIV surveillance for decades to monitor and identify mutations in the virus, which helps with diagnostic efforts and restraint. This work is being done in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the University Protestant in Congo.
There is currently no cure for HIV, but it can be controlled with appropriate medication. The drugs are recommended for all patients diagnosed with HIV, as delaying treatment can damage the immune system and increase the risk of developing AIDS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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“Global surveillance is ahead of emerging infectious diseases – and in this case we realized that we have discovered something that could be another step towards unlocking a cure for HIV,” said Dr. Michael Berg, an associate researcher on infectious diseases. disease research at Abbott and lead author of the study. “There is still a lot of work to be done in the global research community, but using what we have learned from this study and sharing it with other researchers brings us closer to new treatments that could eliminate HIV.”