BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Health  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Medical notes
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Immune system 'can suppress HIV'
HIV pills
Stopping drug therapy is not recommended for all HIV patients
HIV patients who receive early treatment for the virus can be eventually taken off drugs without any ill effects, according to doctors.

Researchers in the US have found that patients with HIV who received anti-viral drugs during the first stages of the disease were later able to control the condition with their immune systems alone.

Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital enrolled eight patients with HIV in their study.

Each of these had been treated with drugs as soon as they started to show signs of infection from the virus. When their viral loads of the disease were brought down they were taken off their drugs.

As part of the study, doctors pledged to resume drug treatment if their viral loads reached certain levels, namely above 5,000 for three weeks or above 50,000 at any point.

Treatment patterns

They found that the viral loads in each of the patients rose within 17 days of the drugs being stopped.

However, levels in three patients soon dropped below 5,000. Two of these have stayed off drugs for between nine and 11 months and have load levels of below 200.


This is the first time that anyone has shown that the immune system can successfully be manipulated to keep HIV under control

Dr Bruce Walker, Massachusetts General Hospital
The third patient chose to resume his drug therapy after three months, even though his viral load never exceeded 5,000.

He discontinued again after three months and currently has a viral load below 300, more than nine months later.

The viral loads of the other five patients exceeded the limits set by the doctors and they were put back on drugs. However, their viral loads increased further when they resumed their treatment and all decided to stop taking their drugs again.

Their viral loads soon dropped below 5,000 and two of these patients have been off treatment for almost nine months. Their viral loads are much lower at 200.

Two of these patients started taking drugs again after four months even though their viral levels had not exceeded the doctors' limits.

Just one patient was required to go back on drugs after his viral level exceeded 5,000 for three weeks after about five months without the drugs.

The doctors who carried out the study said their findings showed that the immune system can suppress HIV.

Success

Dr Bruce Walker, director of the Partners Aids Research Centre at Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "Even if the viral loads on these patients rise tomorrow, we've shown that it is possible for the immune system to suppress HIV, something many believed could not be done."

He added: "This is the first time that anyone has shown that the immune system can successfully be manipulated to keep HIV under control."

Dr Walker said the study showed that treating HIV infection in its earliest stages was important.

"Diagnosing HIV infection and beginning antiviral treatment as early as possible can make a fundamental difference in the way the immune system handles the virus."

But he added: "We want to stress that persons currently taking the anti-HIV drug cocktail referred to as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) should continue taking their drugs."

The doctors said further study was needed to see if their findings could be applied to other patients with HIV.

The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

See also:

31 Aug 00 | Health
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes