Since the discovery of HIV in 1983, medical research has made great strides against the virus. Today, there are more than 20 drugs that prevent the replication of HIV in the body. Most people can now live a long time with the virus if they receive the right treatment and care.
At the same time, no cure or vaccine for the virus has been found. The search for a vaccine has led to several disappointments in recent years. There are now some research approaches that offer hope of a future cure. It will, however, be a long time yet before HIV can really be cured and eliminated from the body.
Scientific research continues to develop new drugs to stop HIV reproducing in the body.
Another area of research is the development of microbicides. These are usually gels or suppositories which could apply to the vagina or the rectum to protect against HIV infection.
The aim of a vaccination is to prepare the immune system to work against a pathogen. To accomplish this, certain parts of the pathogen, or living but weakened varieties of it, are injected into the body. The immune system then produces antibodies which can disarm the pathogen, making it harmless, when the pathogen later enters the body.
This technique has so far not been possible with HIV, as the virus is constantly changing. Antibodies that could combat one variant of HIV are powerless against others. For this reason, all attempts to develop a vaccine have failed.
There has also been no success in developing a vaccine that could make infection with HIV less likely or lessen the course of the illness.
A vaccine against HIV is therefore still a very long way off.
Research is constantly working to develop new drugs that combat the replication of HIV in the body.
The main aim of this research is to provide new options for treatment. This is important because HIV can develop resistance to a drug. When that happens, it is necessary to change to another drug combination.
At the same time, the side effects and long-term damage caused by new drugs should be minimized. The way in which the medication needs to be taken could become easier.
Research has been very successful in these fields. Many medications only need to be taken once or twice a day. Long-term damage such as lipodystrophy (redistribution of fat in the body) can now be avoided in most cases.
Microbicides are agents in gels or suppositories which are designed to prevent an HIV infection by being applied to the vagina before intercourse. Microbicides would primarily help women who for cultural or social reasons are not free to decide whether to use condoms when having sex - because men allow them no choice, for example.
Unfortunately, all attempts so far to develop these kinds of microbicides have failed. At first, attempts were made to use microbicides to create a chemical barrier over the sensitive mucous membranes of the vagina. This did not work.
Now, scientists are pursuing a different approach: using HIV drugs as microbicides. The drugs could prevent HIV from replicating when the HIV comes into contact with the mucous membrane or after the infection of the first mucous membrane cells - and thus prevent the woman from becoming infected with HIV. In the next few years, studies will show whether or not this approach is successful.