By Sara Reardon
Antiretroviral drugs have transformed HIV infection from a death sentence to a chronic condition for many people who carry the virus. But because HIV never truly leaves the body, the virus rebounds rapidly if patients stop taking the drugs for even a short time.
Now scientists are trying to figure out how, and where, HIV hides when blood tests show that a person’s viral load is low or undetectable. The location of this reservoir has long been a mystery, but that could soon change. Powerful new techniques are giving researchers an unprecedented look at how HIV travels though the bodies of people and animals — turning up clues to the virus’s hiding places and new targets for future therapies.
HIV is a challenging foe because it integrates into the DNA of its host cells. Some scientists argue that a true cure would require removing all traces of the virus’s DNA from the body, rather than simply preventing HIV from hijacking cells to replicate itself — and that goal may be unreachable. “We are starting to realize that getting rid of all the HIV DNA is not completely realistic,” says Sara Gianella, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of California, San Diego.
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