This is a typical example of the lay media distorting reality for attention-grabbing headlines.
The published study results are available here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21248316
The in vivo
aspect of the studies focused on in the news article was based on a total of 34 mice:
- Treatment from weeks 4.5-9.5 post-HIV infection: 19 mice (2 uninfected controls, 5 untreated, 6 siRNA only, and 6 chimera A-1).
- Treatment from weeks 5.5-8.5 post-HIV infection: 15 mice (3 uninfected controls, 3 untreated, 3 mutant chimera A-5, 3 aptamer A-1, and 3 chimera A-1).
This study demonstrates a novel method to target a HIV-1 envelope protein (proof-of-concept paper). However, the timespan between now and a possible therapy for humans infected with HIV is quite long. First, further studies will need to be done by other research groups around the country/world in order to replicate and validate the results of Neff et al
(this could take a few years). Second, the technology for producing the aptamers will need to be improved in order to be able to make them more cheaply (much larger volumes of the aptamers will be needed for subsequent experiments). Third, support will need to be acquired (via the NIH, venture capitalists, etc.) in order to provide the funding necessary for pre-clinical studies. Hundreds or thousands of mice (and perhaps larger mammals such as pigs, dogs, or monkeys) will need to be experimented on to provide clinically significant results for the FDA approval process (very expensive step). Fourth, the FDA will need to thoroughly review the pre-clinical data to ensure that all possible side effects and risks have not been overlooked (this back-and-forth with the applicant could take another few years). Fifth, more support will be necessary to fund the clinical trials. But here's the catch: proof-of-concept in a non-human species (even those with "humanized" immune systems) does not guarantee success in humans. Phase I-IV clinical trials can take many years (per phase). Assuming that the product and dosing are proven to be safe and efficacious in humans, it could then be made available to HIV+ individuals who can afford it.
The above is only a synopsis of the steps necessary to transform the findings of a single study into a possible
treatment for humans. The lay media doesn't provide enough (if any) caveats in its reporting of scientific and medical discoveries, leading its consumers to have unrealistic expectations.
We should certainly remain optimistic about future cures for human diseases, but at the same time be practical about the real-world obstacle course that needs to be traversed from initial discovery to widely available therapy.