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Health Team

UNC-led research will tackle HIV cure

Posted July 11, 2011 5:08 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2011 6:31 p.m. EDT

— Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are leading a national collaborative effort to find a way to purge HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from the immune systems of infected people.

The National Institutes of Health has granted $32 million to a group of 19 investigators, led by Dr. David Margolis, a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at UNC, to work alongside pharmaceutical company Merck to tackle the deadly disease over the next five years.

"This commitment signifies that it's really felt to be something that's worth working on," Margolis said. "(HIV) is never going to be easy to get rid of, but I think it's going to be possible."

The research will focus on antiviral therapy, which combines different medications to control virus levels and allow patients to maintain relatively good health. The therapy cannot, however, eliminate the virus from infected cells and tissues.

"HIV remains latent, remains hidden, resists the effect of potent antiviral therapy and cannot currently be cured," Margolis said.

Researchers are hoping to better understand where the resistant virus lies dormant within the body and how it can be fully eliminated.

"(How) we can effectively flush out the viruses (so) it will have nowhere left to go," Margolis said.

UNC, which is one three groups receiving federal funding, will undertake more than a dozen research projects to identify drugs and treatments capable of ridding the body of persistent infection.

Margolis is confident that the research will fill in valuable pieces of the puzzle in the search for a cure.

HIV affects about 1 million people nationwide, and one-fifth of those affected are unaware they have the virus.