Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA, have inched closer to finding a cure for HIV by targeting infected cells that could be lying dormant in the body.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications this week, researchers improved upon a method originally developed in 2017 to kill hidden HIV-infected cells using cells that are naturally produced by the body’s immune system.
The advance brings scientists one step closer to controlling or even eradicating the virus, which attacks the body’s immune system.
“These findings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years,” Jocelyn Kim, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future.”
Globally, 38 million people are currently living with the deadly virus, and an estimated 36 million have died of AIDS-related diseases since the 1980s, according to UNAIDS. Over time, HIV can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition.
People diagnosed with HIV typically take antiretroviral medication to keep the virus at bay, but the HIV still has the ability to elude antiretrovirals by lying dormant in cells called CD4+ T cells.
UCLA researchers’ recent findings build on a strategy designed in 2017 called “kick and kill.” During that study, mice whose immune systems had been altered to mimic those of humans were infected with HIV and given antiretroviral drugs.
After a synthetic compound was administered to activate the mice’s dormant HIV, researchers observed that up to 25 per cent of the previously dormant cells died within 24 hours.
This time around, researchers used the same compound to “flush HIV-infected cells out of hiding,” before injecting “healthy natural killer cells” into the mice’s bloodstream.
In 40 per cent of the infected mice, HIV was completely cleared.
According to Kim, her team’s next objective is to develop an approach that eliminates HIV in 100 per cent of the mice they tested in further experiments.
“We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans,” she said.