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Ahead of AIDS Conference, New Reasons for Hope
Date:7/20/2012

By Carina Storrs
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- The first glimmer of hope for a cure for HIV came in 1996 with the advent of powerful drug cocktails known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). But the feeling was short-lived.

While HAART has drastically reduced deaths due to AIDS and other HIV-related diseases, it is no cure -- if patients stop taking the medications (because of side effects or other reasons), the virus bounces right back, as a 2010 study of patients in Latin America and the Caribbean showed.

Yet, there is now a renewed sense of promise that, even if it still years away, researchers have a better understanding of targets that could lead to a cure, said Rowena Johnston, vice president and director of research at the Foundation for AIDS Research. "We are seeing something that is probably a lot like that time in the 1990s," she said.

In 2012, new causes for optimism include approval of a new drug, Truvada, that can help prevent the spread of HIV, safer and more effective drugs to treat those who are infected and better efforts to diagnose HIV/AIDS in people who don't realize they have it.

These and other achievements will be a focus at the biennial International AIDS Conference, held this year in Washington, D.C. The meeting, which begins Sunday, has not been held in the United States in 22 years. Its return stems from the Obama administration's decision in 2009 to end the ban on HIV-positive people entering the country, Johnston said.

Hints at a cure

Another "large part of the basis for the new optimism" comes from the experience of one patient back in 2008, Johnston said. That was Timothy Brown, also known as "the Berlin patient," who was pronounced cured of HIV by his doctors.

The cure involved a special kind of blood transplant that Brown received for his leukemia from a donor that happened to have rare, mutant cells that d
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