Toulon, France (OPENPRESS) August 14, 2011 -- The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institutes of Health, has recently earmarked a $14.6 million grant to be given to research teams across the country for a common goal-make progress and find a functional cure for HIV. Sounds easy, right? Of course it doesn't, but the money makes the journey toward finding that cure much easier. Financing is one of the main obstacles toward cracking the final piece of the HIV cure puzzle-HIV reservoirs-and the backing of the NIH helps out in that regard. 15 teams across the country are putting the money to good use, finding the drugs needed to draw out and kill the HIV virus remaining in these reservoirs.
The advancement in antiretroviral drugs has created a powerful defense for people infected with HIV. Patients must take a cocktail of drugs daily, and the price tag for these drugs can run well over $1,000 a month. As good as these drugs are, they don't quite get to the root of the problem. They don't eliminate HIV; they just beat it into dormancy. The remaining HIV virus lies dormant in HIV reservoirs, just waiting to come alive when the patient ceases antiretroviral treatment for whatever reason. The goal of the current research is to tap into those HIV reservoirs somehow and bring the remaining virus out in the open so it can be killed, thereby creating a functional cure for HIV.
The current research at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) utilizes mice implanted with human tissue to see how humans might react to HIV eradication drugs being introduced into their systems. Current HIV medication gets rid of infected cells that replicate, but the ones that don't respond to the medication currently available-the virus lying dormant in HIV reservoirs-is the target of the current research. These cells can lie dormant for years, even decades, before activating and rapidly depleting the immune system.
The grant up for renewal every five years, theoretically giving researchers the funding they need to continue research. The mice that UCLA uses in its research can give a good indication on how humans might react to such HIV eradication drugs. Other primates related to humans, such as monkeys, are often used for this endeavor, but mice are a lower-cost alternative. The testing will eventually include primates, but this will expanded further in the future.