Researchers find largest ever group of people who have controlled HIV without drugs.
Discovery of more than 400 'elite controllers' in Democratic Republic of Congo may hold promise of unlocking a cure for the disease.
A large group of people who have managed to control HIV without the need for drugs has been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leading to hopes of eventually finding a cure, scientists have said.
While "elite controllers" of HIV have been found across the globe before, experts believe this is one of the largest groups to date in one region who have naturally-controlled infection. They hope the group could help uncover links between natural virus suppression and future treatments, as scientists work towards finding a cure.
Elite controllers are people who maintain low or undetectable viral loads for many years without needing to take antiretroviral therapy. Although there are no precise figures, they are thought to make up about 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of the HIV-positive population, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Previous studies have suggested several things could be at play, including a defective type of HIV and a rare immune response to the virus.
The new study, published in the journal eBioMedicine, was from a team including Abbott Diagnostics, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US.
Researchers screened 10,457 people and found a group of 429 who were HIV antibody positive but were negative for HIV viral load.
The prevalence of HIV elite controllers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where HIV is thought to have first emerged in the 1920s and where there are an estimated half a million people with the virus, was found to be 2.7-4.3 per cent - compared to a 0.1-2 per cent prevalence worldwide.
The researchers concluded: "Identification of this group of elite controllers presents a unique opportunity to study potentially novel genetic mechanisms of viral suppression."