Emerging Research and Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2024 | Last updated: June 2024

There is a lot of exciting and innovative research into HIV. Some efforts are focused on achieving HIV remission without the use of daily ART (antiretroviral therapy), while others are focused on eliminating all HIV from the body, even when it is inactively hiding within cells (also called being latent).1

Long-acting therapy

HIV has the ability to become latent, meaning it can hide out within cells in our body. This is one of the properties of HIV that makes it difficult to completely cure. Although taking ART every day exactly as prescribed can reduce a person's viral load below detectable limits (called being “undetectable”), some HIV will always be in hiding.1,2

For this reason, if a person who was previously undetectable stops taking their medication, their HIV can become detectable and cause damage again. A current area of investigation focuses on creating longer-lasting drugs that need to be taken less frequently but still have the same effect as daily therapy.1,2

HIV vaccines and immune system-boosting therapies

Scientists are currently investigating ways to ramp up the immune system to fight HIV, including developing virus-targeting proteins called antibodies or a potential HIV vaccine.2

One area of study focuses on broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs). These antibodies can help prevent HIV from infecting their target cells in the body, as well as help the body identify and kill cells that are currently infected. Many people have these proteins already, but they are not in high enough amounts to significantly impact the virus.2

Some theories have suggested that infusions of these antibodies after a person has stopped ART may help keep the virus in check without needing long-term medications. Much more research is needed on these and other potentially HIV-fighting antibodies to determine their effects.2

Vaccines

Vaccines that help the immune system make more bNAbs are also being investigated. In addition, vaccines that help strengthen the human T-cell response to HIV are being researched. T cells are human cells that HIV infects, but they are also powerful immune system regulators. Vaccines aimed at improving T cell response and function may help our bodies fight off HIV and/or prevent new HIV infections in those who are vaccinated. However, further investigation is needed.2

Treatments aimed at eliminating latent HIV

As mentioned, HIV can hide in cells even when a person's viral load (the amount of virus in the blood) is undetectable. Our immune system may not recognize that a cell with latent HIV has the virus, and will allow it to continue living with the hidden virus inside.3

There are research efforts aimed at finding HIV that is hiding and eliminating it from the body. Some of these involve finding new treatments that can kick-start HIV to come out of hiding. When this happens, the immune system or other treatment options can target these newly activated cells and decrease the amount of virus that is latent within the body.3

Stem cell transplants and gene therapy

Scientists are also currently looking into stem cell transplants and gene therapy to cure HIV. Some people have a specific gene mutation that changes a protein called CCR5 on their cells’ surface. CCR5 is used by HIV to enter its target cells and replicate. In people with a mutation that changes their CCR5, HIV may have a harder time getting into and infecting cells.3

Scientists have been investigating the use of stem cell transplants or gene therapy to get this specific gene into people who don’t normally have it, potentially stopping HIV from infecting their cells. Other gene therapy efforts are aimed at eliminating latent HIV from infected cells’ DNA, as well as editing certain genes to make certain cells better HIV fighters.3

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.