Scientists have developed an all-in-one immunotherapy approach in a bid to ‘cure’ HIV.
University of Pittsburgh researchers say they have developed a way to ‘kick’ HIV cells hiding in the immune system. And not only does it kick it out of hiding, the approach also kills it.
No clinical trials have taken place yet.
However, researchers say this is an exciting step to one day developing a vaccine.
New all-in-one approach that ‘kicks and kills’ HIV
Robbie Mailliard, assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology, said it was ‘promising’.
‘A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV. It’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept,’ he said.
‘There are some promising therapies being developed for the kill, but the Holy Grail is figuring out which cells are harboring HIV so we know what to kick.’
Antiretroviral therapy controls HIV infections so the virus is virtually undetectable and cannot infect others.
However, people living with HIV must take a daily regimen of medications. The virus goes into a latent, inactive phase that is hidden in the DNA of certain immune cells.
Nearly two dozen participants living with HIV donated a large amount of blood for the study.
Men would sit for as long as four hours hooked up to a machine that processed the blood.
Inspired by cancer immunotherapy
The team used dendritic cells, used in cancer immunotherapies, to induce the immune system to kill HIV.
Resarchers then engineered these cells to seek out and activate the cells in which HIV was hiding, and also kill it.
Mailliard described it as the ‘Swiss Army knife of immunotherapies’.
The team is now pursing funding to begin clinical trials to test on humans.
But be cautious
Matthew Hodson, HIV advocate and executive director of NAM, called the study ‘exciting’.
‘It’s exciting that there are a number of studies underway at the moment that are aiming towards a cure,’ he said.
‘This new work seems promising but it is very early days yet, as human trials have not yet started.
‘Last year’s RIVER study, which followed a broadly similar strategy, ultimately failed to reduce HIV DNA in the body, beyond the level provided by HIV treatment.’
Kat Smithson, Director of Policy and Campaigns at NAT (National AIDS Trust) said: ‘Developments in cure research are always exciting and welcome; in the future it will be interesting to see how these developments might continue in human trials.
‘But while we do still have a long time to wait when it comes to finding a cure for HIV, there are a great deal of technological innovations in treatment and prevention that are having an impact right now.
‘We have excellent available treatment for HIV, which suppresses the virus and stops onward transmission.
‘And we can even prevent acquisition of HIV using the drug PrEP. These innovations have led to a reversal of the epidemic in the UK.’