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Doctor makes promising advances in AIDS treatment

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January 22, 1997
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jeff Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho says he is at least one year away from eliminating the AIDS virus, because traces of it have been found in patients' lymph nodes, despite aggressive early treatment.

Ho, who has been experimenting for a year with patients in the early stages of the disease, delivered his findings Wednesday evening at the start of the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, held in Washington.

Ho

"Approximately 20 patients who are early-infection, treated with a combination of potent drugs, have achieved the status of no detectable virus in blood," says Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York.

However, the testing has revealed that even though the virus may disappear from the blood, it can still linger in lymph nodes, the doctor notes. In his experiments, patients are being treated with a protease inhibitor -- the class of drugs that revolutionized AIDS treatment -- and two older medicines.

Signs of the virus also had disappeared from the men's semen, he says, raising the possibility that they might not be able to spread the disease sexually. Ho expressed the hope that, with more testing, the virus might be able to be eliminated from a body completely, after two or three years.

He emphasizes, however, that he is experimenting only with patients in the early stages of the virus, and they are the easiest to treat.

"There's a new optimism, and many patients are benefiting, but not all patients," he says. "And we have to be cautious about not blowing this into a cure. That would clearly be a hype."

No success yet with advanced patients

Patients in more advanced stages of the disease are getting the same treatments that have proven so effective on early-stage patients. But it's not clear yet if they'll get the same benefit. And it is still possible the virus could resurface.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

"Detecting virus, not detecting virus, mathematical models or not, the proof of the pudding is going to be: Are you able to stop the virus in individuals and will the virus not come back," says Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

Debbie Thomas-Bryan knows that a treatment doesn't always live up to its promise. The AIDS patient tried one of the highly touted protease inhibitors, but couldn't tolerate it.

Bryan

"When I came off of it," she says, "I felt like ... it was doing me more harm than good at that point."

AIDS researchers try to mix optimism with restraint, knowing that many developments that seemed hopeful did not work in the long run. And so it is that although the past year has offered new hope to those with the virus, scientists are still looking for a cure.

 
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