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Five leading English universities are joining together to trial a new HIV therapy, designed to target dormant HIV infected cells.

Scientists will combine traditional antiretrovirals alongside a drug which will aim to reawaken the parts of the virus which are dormant, and a vaccine designed to destroy them.

The £1.7m trial is being conducted by an alliance of researchers at Oxford University, Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge, University College London and King’s College London.

The lead researchers, Dr Sarah Fidler at Imperial and Dr John Frater at Oxford, hope the trial will provide proof that a cure could eventually be found.

Dr Frater said: “We can only truly know if someone is cured of HIV if we stop giving them antiretroviral therapy. We’re not going to do that, but we will test if we can reduce the number of HIV-infected cells in these patients.”

“If we can, it will prove in principle that this strategy could work as a cure, even though it will need many more years of further development.”

The trial builds upon previous research conducted into dormant HIV, also known as “reservoir”, and uses HDAC inhibitors which reactivate the hidden virus.

The scientists believe that within months of the 50 patients taking the treatment, the reservoir will be significantly reduced.

Dr Fidler added: “We know that targeting the HIV reservoir is extremely difficult but our research in the labs has led to some very promising results.

“We now have the opportunity to translate that into a possible new treatment, which we hope will be of real benefit to patients.”

Full results are expected to be published by the collective universities in 2017.

Related: Dormant HIV reservoir may be 60 times bigger than previously thought

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