The Centre of Awareness has disclosed that it has found a potential cure for HIV/AIDS following ten years of research into plant medicines in Ghana.
According to the founder of the centre, Dr Samuel Ato Duncan, the drug named COA has been scientifically tested and seen to be efficacious and safe for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Dr Duncan disclosed this at a presentation on the drug at the Physicians and Surgeons auditorium in Accra on Wednesday, 5 October 2016.
HIV is believed to have originated in west-central Africa during the late 19th or early 20th century. AIDS was first recognised by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and its cause – HIV infection – was identified in the early part of that decade.
Between its discovery and 2014, AIDS has caused an estimated 39 million deaths worldwide.
HIV is spread primarily through unprotected sex (including anal and oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
There is no cure or vaccine for the disease, however, anti-retroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy.
The Ato Duncan’s announcement of a potential cure comes two days after The Telegraph reported that a British man could become the first person in the world to be cured of the disease using a new therapy designed by a team of scientists from five UK universities.
The 44-year-old, according to the paper, is one of 50 people currently trialling a treatment which targets the disease even in its dormant state.
Scientists told The Sunday Times that presently the virus is completely undetectable in the man’s blood, although that could be a result of regular drugs. However if the dormant cells are also cleared out it could represent the first complete cure. Trial results are expected to be published in 2018.
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” said Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure.
“We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
The trial is being undertaken by researchers from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London.
HIV is so difficult to treat because it targets the immune system, splicing itself into the DNA of T-cells so that they not only ignore the disease, but turn into viral factories which reproduce the virus.
Current treatments, called anti-retroviral therapies (Art), target that process but they cannot spot dormant infected T-cells.
The new therapy works in two stages. Firstly, a vaccine helps the body recognise the HIV-infected cells so it can clear them out. Secondly, a new drug called Vorinostat activates the dormant T-cells so they can be spotted by the immune system.
More than 100,000 people in Britain are living with HIV, around 17 per cent of whom do not know they have the disease, and 37 million are infected worldwide.
Professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College London, added: “This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones.
“It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too, but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy.
“We will continue with medical tests for the next five years and at the moment we are not recommending stopping Art but in the future depending on the test results we may explore this.”
Only one person has ever been cured of HIV. He is Timothy Brown, also known as The ‘second’ Berlin Patient, who received a stem cell transplant from a patient with natural immunity to HIV in 2008.
Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, the Aids charity, said: “There is still no cure for HIV and we welcome this ambitious study which looks to eradicate the virus completely from the bodies of people living with HIV, instead of suppressing it.”
Philip Christopher Baldwin, an HIV awareness activist said: “I’m really excited by the recent developments regarding a potential cure for the HIV virus.
“The first person to complete an experimental course of treatment has cleared the virus. I was diagnosed with HIV in 2010, when I was 24 years old. It took me a number of years to come to terms with my HIV.
“I am proud that five British universities have been responsible for this pioneering research. It remains to be seen whether the virus will return in the “cured” patient, or if the other people taking part in the medical trial will respond in a similar way.
“The research, though, is great progress and I hope that these early results will be repeated throughout the trial group. This is an important step towards a world free of the fear of HIV.”