SEP 20, 2016 12:24 PM PDT

Waking up "hiding" HIV cells to treat dormant infection

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker
After years of research and improvements, antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a reliably effective way to prevent an infection with HIV from progressing into AIDS. However, rare HIV-infected cells can “hide” in a patient receiving ART, preventing the treatment from being completely effective. A new technique for catching these hiding cells comes from the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center in a recent Cell Host & Microbe study. 
T cells from a HIV-infected patient were stained for HIV RNA (red), HIV protein (green) and the nucleus (blue)
Without treatment, an HIV-positive individually will infallibly develop AIDS, where the immune system is irreversibly damaged and opportunistic infections can easily cause death. According to AIDS.gov, individuals with AIDS typically survive for less than three years. 

Thankfully, ART entered the scene in 1996, marking the beginning of HIV as a manageable infection. Twenty years later, scientists from the University of Montreal are working on making ART technology even better.

Montreal’s Dr. Daniel Kaufmann’s research focuses on the detection of dormant “HIV reservoirs,” HIV-infected CD4+ T lymphocytes that go undetected by the immune system and by ART. “To develop new, targeted treatments to eliminate these residual infected cells, we need to find exactly where in the CD4+ T lymphocyte population the virus hides,” Kaufmann said. “Our research has uncovered these HIV hiding places.”

In his study, Kaufmann completed blood analysis of 30 HIV-positive patients before and after they received ART, testing two latency reversal drugs on their ability to “wake up” dormant HIV-infected cells: bryostatin and a derivative of ingenol. The study findings showed success in both of the drugs’ ability to locate dormant cells. Researchers found that the drugs targeted different populations of HIV-infected CD4+T lymphocytes and that infected cells in different patients had different hiding places within the body. Kaufmann’s approach is 1000 times more accurate at uncovering hiding HIV reservoirs. 

ART prevents progression of HIV infection to AIDS, but any existing HIV reservoirs come out of hiding as soon as an HIV-positive individual stops receiving ART. With an “unprecedented level of accuracy,” Kaufmann’s identification of drugs that bring hiding HIV reservoirs out into the open make these HIV-infected cells vulnerable for destruction by the immune system and by ART. 

Like a hibernating bear, the drugs “wake up the virus and then find the rare cells that have been hiding it at very low numbers,” Kaufmann said. In combination with ART, the two latency reversal drugs could soon bring HIV treatment to a new level of success.
 


Sources: World Health Organization, AIDS.gov., University of Montreal
About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
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