In recent years, there has been augmented progress in finding a vaccine and functional cure for HIV, Human immunodeficiency virus. There’s a great need for it as well as more than a third of Black youth identified HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment as the most important issue for LGBT organizations to address.

There has been a large obstacle called the viral reservoir, which are locations and cell types in a body where the virus can stay at extremely low levels even when the treatment has worked, which makes the virus undetectable in the blood by standard testing.

While research has shown that patients are noninfectious, meaning that the virus in their blood along with other fluids cannot be transmitted to others, the virus can re-appear due to this viral reservoir. In order to eradicate HIV in totality, the cure will have to remove the virus in the blood, cells, and tissues that make up this reservoir.

A new study from Northwestern University, released on Wednesday, may allow that to happen.

The most recent issue of Nature published a report that states that even in undetectable patients, HIV is still reproducing in the lymphoid tissues, which is a part of the immune system that has spread among structures like the lymph nodes, tonsils, and the spleen. Researchers had once believed that the reservoir had contained “long-lived infected cells in a resting state,” because the reservoir had been immune to the drug resistance during the presence of medication.

“Although combinations of antiretroviral drugs usually suppress viral replication and reduce viral RNA to undetectable levels in blood, it is unclear whether treatment fully suppresses viral replication in lymphoid tissue reservoirs,” the report states. “We present a spatial and dynamic model of persistent viral replication and spread that indicates why the development of drug resistance is not a foregone conclusion under conditions in which drug concentrations are insufficient to completely block virus replication.”

These results, however, show that new cells are being infected in these preserves at low levels – low enough to avoid the effects of a treatment medication and move through the body. Once the drug treatment is completed, these cells begin to produce again.

One of the authors on the paper and chief of infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Steven Wolinsky, said that this finding is helping scientists find the cure to HIV more. “We now have a path to a cure,” he said. “The challenge is to deliver drugs at clinically effective concentrations to where the virus continues to replicate within the patient.” What he is saying is that now that we know where the virus stays under treatment, we know what area of the body to target in order to get rid of it.


(Photo Credit: NIAID / Flickr)