RALEIGH - People living with HIV are able to live otherwise healthy lives by taking powerful and expensive drugs daily, which kill almost all of the virus in their bodies.
But after giving six HIV patients one dose of a drug normally used for treating cancer, researchers at UNC were able to reveal the remaining dormant HIV in hidden cells.
"So, we're trying to figure out ways to get at that DNA, or those infected cells, and get rid of them,” said Dr. David Margolis. “So that the person actually would not have to take treatment anymore."
In other words, Margolis and his team are trying to find a cure.
"People always ask me how much longer, and I have no idea,” Margolis said. “It's going to be complicated. It will take a while. But I think that we're making a lot of exciting progress."
The progress is made possible by six Triangle-area men who are living with HIV. They volunteered to take the sometimes toxic cancer drug.
"We're not making them better. We're not giving them a cure. We're not doing anything for them,” said UNC research assistant Amanda Crooks. “They're sacrificing their time and energy in order to hopefully help people in the future."
But experts say the fight against HIV is about more than a cure. It's about prevention and awareness.
"A lot of people are not even aware that this is still a big problem,” said NC State professor Dr. James Kiwanuka-Tondo. “HIV/AIDS is now called one of the forgotten diseases, because of where we've come."
Kiwanuka-Tondo and Dr. Fay Cobb Payton are using grant money to reach out to a high risk group for HIV infections, young African American women.
"We just saw a need to perhaps use technology in an effort to get messages of prevention to that population,” Payton said.
Through online, social, and mobile campaigns they hope to craft a message that will resonate with young women. That, while some are working to cure HIV, the best defense is to know the risks and to know your status.
The UNC research team hopes to have the results of their experiment published soon. The NC State project is part of a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation.