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New U of M study points to 'curative strategies' for HIV

The research could be a game-changer for HIV treatments.

An announcement from the University of Minnesota Medical School could signal a potential breakthrough in HIV research – and possibly "curative strategies" as well.

Published in the medical science journal Nature Medicine, the U of M study says that current antiretroviral drugs – which are used to stop HIV from spreading in infected patients – aren't strong enough to fully penetrate the areas where most HIV-infected cells live.

Those cells are in the body's lymphoid tissues, such as lymph nodes, the spleen, and the gastrointestinal tract. 

The ability of antiretrovirals to reach those lymphoid tissues is crucial, because they contain "nearly 99 percent of HIV-infected cells," according to a U of M news release.

The potentially frightening thing about this is that these cells – which the study refers to as HIV "reservoirs" – carry the potential for "reactivation and reigniting the (HIV) infection."

So what happens next?

Researchers, the news release says, "need to understand why the current treatments do not achieve adequate levels in lymphoid tissue reservoirs to completely shut down virus production."

In other words, the scientists behind the study hope their findings lead to better drugs – specifically drugs that can reach the reservoirs at strong-enough concentrations to attack the HIV there. 

"This knowledge could jump-start the development of more effective treatments that could lead us closer to a cure for this disease," the release says.

But is it really a breakthrough?

It's no secret that "clickbait" headlines have eroded public confidence in news articles that announce "breakthroughs" promising potential "cures" to AIDS, cancer, and other diseases.

So what about the U of M's announcement? Will it have some huge, meaningful impact on HIV research and the medical science community in general?

"That is really hard to predict," Dr. Timothy Schacker, a lead researcher in the study and a U of M professor, admitted to GoMN. 

But, he added, "the idea that drug delivery may be a barrier to (a) cure is new," and the possibility that "better drugs might get us closer (to a cure) is novel and important."

In other words, quite possibly – but we can only wait and see. 

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