Looking to the future: The quest for a cure

Effective HIV treatment was first introduced as recently in 1996. There have been enormous improvements in antiretroviral therapy in recent years. Modern anti-HIV drugs are powerful, durable, easy to take and generally have relatively mild side-effects. Research continues to find even better therapies.

Moreover, many doctors and researchers now believe that one day we’ll have a cure for HIV.

There was a resurgence in interest in HIV cure research in 2010, when Timothy Ray Brown (‘the Berlin patient’) was named as having been cured (that is, to have had HIV completely eradicated from his body) – after undergoing very gruelling therapy that involved a bone marrow transplant as treatment for leukaemia. This is not a treatment that can be widely used, but the case showed that a cure may be possible and also provided an important basis for further research.

Since then, researchers have identified a small number of people who appear to be ‘in remission’ from HIV, or to have what’s been called a ‘functional cure’. This means long-term control of HIV without the need for antiretroviral treatment. All these people started therapy very soon after they were infected with HIV. Several years later, they interrupted their treatment, but their viral load remained suppressed or at very low levels. Remember, it is very important to consult your doctor before making any changes to, or stopping, your treatment.

These people’s experiences, and others taking part in new and experimental treatment, are helping develop a range of techniques that may take us closer to a cure for HIV. You can find out more about the various aspects of HIV cure research in this feature article, Progress towards an HIV cure, published in November 2013, or visit our topics page The search for a cure for the latest resources, features and news reports.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.