Researchers have taken a major step forward in the pursuit of an HIV cure, by successfully eliminating the virus from the cells of living animals for the first time.
The study, conducted by a team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, saw the virus completely removed from the cells of infected mice, using a new approach that could potentially be translated to humans.
While there is still some way to go before this approach can be used in people, the study represents a significant milestone in the search for an HIV cure.
current antiretroviral therapy can keep the virus suppressed, but it does not eliminate it from the body. This means that people living with HIV must take medication for the rest of their lives, and are still at risk of the virus reactivating and causing disease.
A cure for HIV would therefore be a major breakthrough, and this new study offers a potential way to achieve this.
The approach used in the study involves genetically modifying a patient’s own immune cells, so that they are resistant to HIV infection. These modified cells are then transplanted back into the patient, where they can help to fight the virus.
In the current study, the team transplanted these modified cells into mice that had been infected with HIV. They found that, over time, the virus was completely removed from the cells of these mice, and they remained healthy.
Importantly, the researchers also found that the transplanted cells were able to pass their HIV-resistance on to other, non-modified cells, meaning that the virus could potentially be eliminated from the entire body.
While this is an exciting result, it is important to remember that it is still early days, and this approach will need to be tested in human clinical trials before it can be used to treat patients.
Nevertheless, the study represents a major step forward in the pursuit of an HIV cure, and offers hope that a real possibility of a cure may one day be within reach.
In the three decades since the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was first identified, considerable progress has been made in developing treatments that can keep infected people alive and healthy. But a cure for HIV—one that completely eliminates the virus from the body—has proven elusive. Now, a new study reports a major advance toward that goal.
The research, published in the journal Nature, describes the case of a patient who was treated with a combination of three anti-HIV drugs and then experienced long-term remission of the virus. This is the first time that such a long period of HIV remission has been observed in a patient who has not undergone a stem cell transplant—a procedure that is not practical or possible for most people with HIV.
“This represents a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially cured,” says lead author Ravindra Gupta, a professor of infectious diseases at University College London.
The patient in question is a man in his mid-40s who was diagnosed with HIV in 2003. He began treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2012. In 2016, he underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor in his kidney and, as part of his treatment, received a course of radiation therapy that depleted his immune cells.
After his cancer treatment was completed, the man’s HIV resurfaced. He then underwent a second, more intense course of ART that included the drugs dolutegravir and cabotegravir, in addition to the drug he had been taking previously. This triple-drug regimen was able to suppress the virus to undetectable levels in his blood.
Importantly, the patient was able to maintain an undetectable viral load for more than two years after stopping treatment. This is the longest period of time that HIV remission has been observed in a patient who has not undergone a stem cell transplant.
While the findings are preliminary and much more research is needed, they offer hope that a cure for HIV may one day be possible. “This is a potentially major step forward,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which helped fund the study. “I think it’s worth further investigation.”