The HIV cure puzzle

Over the last ten years, there has been a dramatic increase in research into finding a cure for HIV.

ART in pictures 6 - cure puzzle

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Similar to the way ART uses drugs that target different parts of the HIV lifecycle, cure research is likely to use different treatments to cover four areas:

1. To activate sleeping cells in the viral reservoir.

2. To answer questions about ongoing HIV replication on ART. For example, are there places in the body that ART
doesn’t reach?

3. To see whether immune damage from HIV can be reversed.

4. To use a vaccines or immune-based treatment to keep viral load under control, but without needing ART.

As an advocate, it is always good to be optimistic – and hope is a powerful thing. 

Just as science developed ART, one day there will be a cure.

Not only has funding for cure research increased but researchers in many different countries are working together on this shared goal.

Although ART is good, a cure would be better!

One type of cure is called eradication. This approach aims to clear HIV completely from your body. The reservoir makes this very difficult. A single long-lived resting cell could activate decades after someone might think they are cured. 

Another type of cure is called a functional cure. This approach attempts to get your immune system to control HIV, without needing ART. 

In practice, either type of cure would be great. But both would be similar to remission after cancer. So an HIV cure will also need an easy way to test viral load at home.

Any cure for HIV is likely to need a combination approach. Different research will provide different pieces of the puzzle.

Further reading

The International AIDS Society (IAS) publishes the Towards a Cure report every five years. This is the best overview of HIV cure research. The 2021 report reviews the previous five years of research and looks forward to the next five years.

IAS strategy for an HIV cure (2021): easy-to-read Q&A.

Many other resources are produced by the IAS to track the progress of this research, including an annual update on progress.

Last updated: 1 April 2022.