Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1503 EAT on Saturday 9th July 2022.
Makerere University researchers have started a study that will attempt to find a permanent cure for HIV/Aids.
Based at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), the researchers are joining other scientists based in the US to explore whether a strategy dubbed; Block, Lock and Excise can help them defeat the virus that has so far had no vaccine despite over 30 years of research.
Dr Betty Mwesigwa, the deputy executive director of MUWRP said that with this strategy, they are currently in the laboratory developing chemicals or programmed epi-genetics that will help them make the virus inactive and then wipe it out of the body something they have coined into block, lock and excise.
“Scientists also know that it is a very steep road to an HIV cure and the in between has been can we make this virus sleep and sleep long enough that someone can come off treatment and the virus doesn’t wake up. Just the middle ground, it is not the ultimate. The ultimate would be for us to find something that clears the virus out of the body. That is what cure is – organisms that clear the organisms out of the body meaning your clear out of it because it is a steep road,” said Mwesigwa.
Mwesigwa says first, they want to establish where exactly the virus hides in the body. This means, she says, they will first block it from within the reservoirs where it hides, make it sleep which is scientifically defined as remission and then erase it from the body which is in this case excising. This study is scheduled to last five years.
Later, they will move into human trials if the laboratory studies give promising results. However, even before the study goes far, it has excited people living with HIV and activists. For instance, Moses Nsubuga, an activist who has been on treatment for over 20 years said this study gives hope, especially to people on third-line treatment who are worried about what will happen to them once their last line of treatment fails.
He added that even if the current treatment can give one a near-normal life with the ability to live free of opportunistic infections, they live with risks of developing serious complications like liver damage and a cure would be the only solution for this.
However, while this is the first study of the kind to try HIV obstruction by programmed epi-genetics in Africa, a number of other strategies are being tried including gene therapy, immunotherapy and a slightly similar strategy to the one that is set to be studied which is called shock and kill.
In this study, scientists used drugs to awaken hidden viruses in the reservoirs and then killed them but the research collapsed when study participants started developing serious side effects and yet they also established that they were not eliminating all the viruses in the body with the strategy.
The New study is funded by the US-based National Institutes of Health (NIH).