In what could potentially be the greatest medical discovery in ages, scientists at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory are working on a broad-spectrum drug that could be used to cure viral infections.
Most of the world’s infectious diseases are caused by either bacteria or viruses. And while bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, there is nothing to combat viral infections. But this new discovery could even overcome another problem — the drug resistance that bacteria are able to acquire with antibiotics.
“Viruses are pretty good at developing resistance to things we try against them,” says Karla Kirkegaard, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, “but in this case, it’s hard to think of a simple pathway to drug resistance.”
Experts are reacting with cautious optimism to the announcement on February 28 that researchers reconfigured immune cells so that they became resistant to HIV in six patients infected with the virus.
But they say the jury is out on whether the technique might ever spell an end to AIDS.
The first and only person ever to be cured of HIV disease is a leukemia patient treated in Berlin with HIV-resistant stem cells.
Although that patient was treated in 2007, researchers are only now officially using the word “cure.” That’s because extensive tests — including analyses of tissues from his brain, gut, and other organs — detect no sign of lingering HIV.
Few people with HIV would want to go through the grueling and life-threatening cancer treatment that was part of this cure. And so far, the cure has not been duplicated in other HIV-positive leukemia patients who underwent similar treatment.