Antiretroviral therapy may soon lose its place in the world as researchers have successfully discovered a way of kicking the dormant form of HIV by the help of immune cells. These findings may pave the path for HIV vaccine in the future.
As per the current statistics, almost 1.1 million people in the United States have HIV. With regards to antiretroviral therapy half of these people now have a low level of virus in their body which makes their sexual intercourse safe with their partners; that is they can no longer transmit the virus.
The antiretroviral therapy makes sure of its success by making the virus almost undetectable in the blood. However, antiretroviral therapy allows the HIV virus to live in latent form and due to this, the patients must continue their medications.
Not only this but antiretroviral therapy can also cause a lot of side effects like on insulin resistance, cardiovascular issues, bone density, neurological and psychiatric health, gastrointestinal issues and liver.
So, researchers are still looking for better HIV treatment. According to the new research, Senior study author Robbie Mailliard, Ph.D. — an assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in Pennsylvania — and colleagues have found a way of finding and attacking the HIV viruses.
The findings may help the researchers in the future to introduce such vaccines which will stop the people from taking antiretroviral therapy every day. The findings are published in the journal EBioMedicine.
Mailliard explains the reason behind the determination towards the research by saying, “A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV, and it’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept — kick the virus out of hiding and then kill it.”
He adds, “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.”
The HIV viruses hide in the T helper cells of immune cells and go in a latent phase. In order to find out which cells are carrying the HIV virus, the researchers worked on a different virus named cytomegalovirus showing ma similar behavior. This virus almost affects 95% of people with HIV.
“The immune system spends a lot of time keeping CMV in check,” explains study co-author Charles Rinaldo, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
“In some people, 1 one out of every 5 T cells are specific to that one virus,” adds Rinaldo. “That got us thinking — maybe those cells that are specific to fighting CMV also make up a large part of the latent HIV reservoir.”
“So we engineered our immunotherapy to not only target HIV but to also activate CMV-specific T helper cells.”
“You have to collect a lot of blood to find T cells latently infected with functional HIV in people on [antiretroviral therapy] — it could be as few as 1 out of every 10 million cells,” explains first study author Jan Kristoff.
The researchers also isolated another type of immune cell called dendritic cells. Mailliard describes these cells using a sports analogy; they are the “quarterbacks” of the immune system, he says, as “they hand off the ball and dictate the plays, telling other immune cells where to go and what to fight.”
“Without adding any other drug or therapy,” explains Mailliard, “MDC1were then able to recruit killer T cells to eliminate the virally infected cells.”
“With just MDC1, we achieved both kick and kill — it’s like the Swiss Army knife of immunotherapies. To our knowledge, this is the first study to program dendritic cells to incorporate CMV to get the kick, and also to get the kill, said Robbie Mailliard, Ph.D.