French Researchers Inching Closer to a Cure for AIDS
Thirty years ago, two teams of scientists led by noted French and American virologists (virology is the study of viruses) published the findings of their groundbreaking research on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
These findings, which confirmed the existence of pathological viruses first observed in the United States in 1981, won American scientist Robert Gallo the prestigious Lasker Award in 1982 and French researchers Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008. Ever since this defining moment in the history of French and American scientific collaboration, both countries have held significant roles in furthering research to fight the disease — an international effort which continues today.
This year’s International AIDS Conference, held in Washington, D.C. in July, served to once again highlight international efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, particularly French contributions to the cause. French researchers from Paris’s Institut Pasteur presented promising new evidence that the scientific community is discovering new ways of treating the condition, which compromises patients’ immune systems and leaves them vulnerable to grave illness and death.
Results stemming from a study of the “Visconti Cohort,” a group of 14 French HIV patients at the center of a decade-long research effort at the Institut Pasteur, confirm the effectiveness of early antiretroviral drug therapy in fighting off the development of AIDS. These patients began treatment very shortly after becoming infected with HIV, an action uncommon among HIV positive individuals.
After undergoing three years of early treatment, the Visconti patients ceased to take the drug altogether and show little signs of the virus even seven years later. Rather than their conditions worsening and developing into AIDS, these patients’ health remains relatively stable, a promising development for what researchers are calling a “functional cure” of the disease.
While treatments and vaccines aimed at completely eradicating the virus still remain to be developed, the international community is advancing in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. French scientific efforts are helping to advance the cause with important discoveries and promising results.