AIDS virus stays in check during drug holiday, research shows
January 21, 2000
From Medical Correspondent
Web posted at: 1:35 p.m. EST (1835 GMT)
Washington (CNN) -- A man identified only as the "Washington patient" is the subject of a promising new report on AIDS treatment. It suggests that a "drug holiday" from the costly and often toxic AIDS cocktails can allow patients to live without medication for a few months at a time.
Dr. Franco Lori led the preliminary research into a drug holiday at the Research Institute for Genetic and Human Therapy in Washington. Lori's team attempted to reproduce the results seen in the so-called "Berlin patient," a German man who has been off his AIDS drugs for three years and has somehow kept the virus in check.
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Lori's results with the Washington patient are published as a research letter in Friday's issue of the Lancet, the leading British medical journal.
The Washington scientists have studied their remarkable patient for more than two years, taking him off the powerful AIDS medications periodically. The idea is to suppress HIV in the body with the drug cocktail, then stop the drugs and allow the virus to rebound so the immune system sees it. Researchers repeat this cycle again and again until the immune system learns the virus is an enemy.
"If the immune system can be activated that way then the immune system will be able to control, eventually, HIV as we do daily with other viruses like herpes," Lori told CNN.
Lori says AIDS may one day be controled much like the herpes virus
So far the Washington patient has had several drug holidays -- one lasting three and a half months.
"It was good not to have to schedule my life around when I was going to have to take my drugs," he said.
Many HIV patients take as many as 20 drugs a day, which cost up to $10,000 a year and can produce sickening side-effects.
Last year Lori and his colleagues published similar results from another anonymous patient. But the doctors warn patients not to try treatment holidays on their own.
"When you stop drugs what will happen is the virus reactivates itself and it replicates and then you get a rebound in your viral load," said internist Dr. Bruce Rashbaum.
The next research step is to confirm drug holidays will work for patients who have been infected for several years and have been on many different drugs.
As for the Washington patient, he says in 10 years he wants to be the forgotten patient ... forgotten because he beat the disease.
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