Barcelona (ACN).- An international study with the participation of the Hospital Clínic IDIBAPS, which is a Barcelona-based leading research centre at a global level on AIDS/HIV and other common diseases, has proved that an anti-retroviral treatment carried out just after the infection delays the damage to the patient’s immune system and reduces the risk of transmission. The results of clinical tests on 366 infected individuals confirmed that the sooner and longer an initial anti-retroviral treatment is applied, the later the life-long treatments have to start. However, despite the results, researchers insist that is still too soon to change the current AIDS/HIV treatment protocols. The research project is the largest HIV study ever carried out on recently-infected people, with patients from Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, South-Africa, Spain, Uganda and the United Kingdom. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was coordinated by the Imperial College London and the Unit of Clinical Studies of Medical Research Council of England, with the participation of the University of Oxford for the immunological research. The IDIBAPS-Hospital Clínic Infectious Diseases and AIDS/HIV Service, directed by Josep Maria Gatell, participated in the study. Gatell’s team is one of the world’s leading research groups on AIDS/HIV. Josep Maria Miró, a member of the team, was one of the main researchers of the study and participated in its design and the inclusion of the patients. Miró was also a member of the directing committee of the study.
The clinical study, called SPARTAC (Short Pulse Anti-Retroviral Therapy at HIV Seroconversion), consisted of comparing the results between a first group of infected patients who received treatment for 12 weeks after finding out about the infection, a second group who received treatment for 48 weeks and a third group who did not receive an initial anti-retroviral treatment. Currently, international treatment guidelines recommend that when the number of TCD4 cells decreases below 350 per cubical millimetre, a life-long treatment with anti-retroviral drugs has to start. This can happen many months and even a few years after the infection.
The study showed that the patients who had not received the initial anti-retroviral treatment had to start the life-long treatment 157 weeks after being infected. It also showed that those who received anti-retroviral treatment for 12 weeks just after finding out about the infection could wait for 184 weeks before starting to receive the life-long treatment. Finally, those who received the initial treatment for 48 weeks could wait for 222 weeks.
In addition, this third group had the highest number of TCD4 cells compared to the other groups, reducing the risk of developing infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Furthermore, they presented the lowest levels of HIV traces in their blood compared to the rest after one year of having suspended the initial treatment. Researchers state that this could reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners.
However, despite the discovery, researchers have acknowledged that is still too early to recommend important changes to the clinical guidelines for treating HIV. They insist that further studies are needed to evaluate which is the best option to control the virus in the long-term.