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AIDS researchers hold out hope for cure

AIDS Conference

July 12, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 a.m. EDT

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNN) - AIDS researchers ended a global conference on Thursday with hope that new powerful drug combinations might offer a cure for the deadly disease.

Since the 11th International Conference on AIDS began on Sunday, an estimated 42,000 people became infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

Research released this week suggests that some of those cases might be cured with new medicines called protease inhibitors that can reduce the virus to undetectable levels in the bloodstream.

Scientists from the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York said on Thursday that a triple-drug combination wiped out all signs of the virus in the blood of nine patients. Those patients have stayed virus-free for periods ranging from three to 10 months.


If the approach is proven to work, they might be cured in a year or two, said David Ho, one of the world's top AIDS researchers.

"We've turned a page and opened a new chapter in the history of the pandemic," said Dr. Martin Schechter, co-chair of the conference. "Many things we once thought were impossible are now within the realm of the achievable."

It is still unknown whether the virus can rebound once the drug treatment is stopped. The only way to find out is to stop the therapy.

"We have a long way to go," Schechter said. "It would be premature to start using the word 'cure' without caution."

The first volunteer in the experiment completes one year of therapy in September. At that time doctors will sample his lymph nodes for traces of the virus. If none is found, they plan to stop the treatment to see what happens.

The treatment, which costs about $15,000 a year, combines the new drug, indinavir sulfate, with more established anti-HIV drugs like AZT or 3TC. Historically, AIDS patients have improved their conditions while taking AZT but then decline as the virus develops a resistance to the drug.

CNN's Dan Rutz and Reuters contributed to this report.

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