French researchers on Friday announced that a small group of people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had been “functionally cured” of the disease.

The 14 patients, 10 men and 4 women, were treated within the first two months of infection with antiretroviral drugs. Therapy lasted from one year to 7.6 years.

According to Asier Saez-Cirion of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, therapy was successfully stopped without an HIV rebound.

Previous studies have generally shown that stopping the therapy, which keeps the virus from replicating, leads to sharp increases in HIV virus.

But these patients have viral loads regarded as “undetectable” – defined as less than 50 copies per milliliter – suggesting that the patients' immune systems are keeping the virus in check. Scientists are calling this a “functional cure.”

Researchers warned that what are being called “post-treatment controllers” are found in only about 15 percent of patients. That is, about 85 percent of patients treated early with antiretroviral therapy face viral rebound if they stop treatment.

Sarah Radcliffe of the UK National AIDS Trust called the development “exciting.”

“This is really exciting from the perspective of it's another step along the road to a cure for HIV, in this case a functional cure,” Radcliffe told AlJazeera English. “Even though it is some years off in terms of practical applications [for] people currently living with HIV.”

A similar case involved a Mississippi baby whose mother was not diagnosed with HIV until she was in labor. Doctors gave the baby a stronger and earlier treatment than usual starting within 30 hours of birth, before the child had been diagnosed as having acquired HIV from her mother.

When the mother moved, doctors lost touch with the baby and treatment stopped. But the virus did not rebound.

(Related: Doctor who treated baby cured of HIV says she was surprised by discovery.)