A new study has found that the HIV virus’ ability to cause AIDS is weakening over time. This means that AIDS may well become a thing of the past.

This new report, coming out of Oxford University, has stated that the virus is becoming less contagious and less deadly. The study was conducted on 2,000 women in Africa and found that the disease was slowing in its ability to cause AIDS and this could contribute to an end to the global pandemic. The AIDS virus has thus far killed around 40 million people since it first broke out more than 30 years ago.

Currently around 35 million people are suspected to have either AIDS or HIV worldwide with experts now saying that a less virile form of the disease could mean it eventually becomes “almost harmless”.

Philip Goulder, a professor who led the study said, “Overall we are bringing down the ability of HIV to cause AIDS so quickly. But it would be overstating it to say HIV has lost its potency — it’s still a virus you wouldn’t want to have.”

This year will mark the first on record that there has been a lower number of HIV infections than the number of HIV positive people being added to those receiving treatment. Experts are saying that this could well be the major tipping point going forward in reducing deaths from AIDS.

Professor Goulder’s team conducted their study in Botswana and South Africa and found the deadly virus goes weakens when it infects someone with a more robust immune system. Previous research on HIV had shown that people with a specific gene, HLA-B*57, can benefit from a protective effect against HIV which makes the disease progress more slowly than usual to AIDS. The HIV virus thrives because of its ability to replicate itself and eventually overcome the immune system of its host. When the replication can be slowed down there is a far greater chance of the disease being fought off for long enough for treatment to be effective.

Professor Goulder would continue to say HIV going through a process of weakening was a major step towards eliminating AIDS altogether. “It is quite striking. You can see the ability to replicate is 10% lower in Botswana than South Africa and that’s quite exciting. We are observing evolution happening in front of us and it is surprising how quickly the process is happening. The virus is slowing down in its ability to cause disease and that will help contribute to elimination.”

The study was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study also found that in combination with certain drugs the virus can be altered to form a less virile version and therefore less dangerous.

This new study represents a great amount of hope for the future. A future where this dreaded disease can no longer infect us in the same way and will stop affecting people’s lives quite so drastically. This new data may well open the door to massive changes in AIDS treatment that could save innumerable lives in the future.