With major advances in gene therapy techniques and an unprecedented understanding of the basic science underlying the HIV virus, researchers say it is no longer a question of if they can develop a cure for AIDS, but when. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: Deep in a lab at the University of Miami, a lab technician takes vials of the HIV virus out of deep freeze. From there the vials head to the lab where they are prepared for another day of intense investigation. It's a routine that has been going on here and around the world for the better part of 25 years. And according to leading AIDS researcher Mario Stevenson, all that hard work is starting to pay off. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARIO STEVENSON, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND DIRECTOR OF THE AIDS INSTITUTE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "The basic science efforts that many of us have been engaged in have started to reveal what the ingredients of a cure would like like, what the obstacles to a cure look like, and what a success story might look like." The most successful AIDS cure story to date took place in Germany where, Timothy Brown, better known as the Berlin patient, became HIV negative after receiving a mutated gene that blocked the virus from reproducing in his body after a bone marrow transplant. Stevenson says researchers are now trying to achieve that success on a global scale. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARIO STEVENSON, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND DIRECTOR OF THE AIDS INSTITUTE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "Although we can't use bone marrow transplant to eradicate HIV, it has given us clues on how we would approach a cure strategy. It's given us a better understanding of what the virus is doing in the body of individuals who are on therapy, and it has given us the sort of obstacles that we need to overcome in order to eradicate the virus." And that strategy, according to Stevenson has many potential routes. He says a lot of effort is now going into figuring out a viable way to deliver that same mutated gene that cured the Berlin patient into others. Ironically, one of the most promising strategies is engineering a virus to carry the gene into the body, effectively fighting a virus with a virus. Stevenson says he can't predict when a cure will be ready, but he says the eradication of AIDS is now just a matter of time.