Unsatisfied with controlling HIV, researchers at Johns Hopkins and other institutions say they aren't giving up on a cure. They are beginning a five-year initiative to completely purge the virus from people already successfully suppressing it with antiretroviral drugs.

Hundreds of thousands of the estimated million Americans living with HIV are in relatively good health thanks to 20 years of advances in treatment. But the researchers want to rid the body of the virus still hiding in immune system cells.

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The consortium working on the initiative includes nine universities and Merck Research Laboratories. It is called the Martin Delaney Collaboratory, after the well known AIDS activist.

Virologist Janice Clements, vice dean for faculty and a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr. Robert Siliciano will serve as co-investigators. The group will be led by Dr. David Margolis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will provide $32 million in funding for the group, which will pursue about a dozen projects to uncover how HIV remains hidden in the immune system's T-cells and develop treatments.

"This group approach has me much more optimistic," said Siliciano in a statement. He initially doubted a cure was possible after his initial discoveries about those small pockets of virus.
But, how he says, "After years of developing a better understanding of these HIV reservoirs, to the point where we can make and study latently infected T-cells in the laboratory, we are finally ready to go after them."

Other partners on the project include Case Western Reserve University; the University of California, Davis; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, San Francisco; The Gladstone Institute; the University of Minnesota; and the University of Utah.

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