The biggest challenge facing the quest for the cure for HIV is finding ways to eliminate the ‘reservoirs’ where the virus hides, and researchers may have developed a solution.
Their approach involves sending an agent to ‘wake up’ the dormant virus, which causes it to begin replicating so that either the immune system or the virus itself would kill the cell harboring HIV.
Scientists call the technique “kick and kill.” According to the research, destroying the reservoir cells could rid some or all HIV virus from people who are infected.
Although the scientists’ approach has not been tested in humans yet, a synthetic molecule they developed has been effective at kicking and killing HIV in lab animals.
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and the study’s lead author, said, “The latent HIV reservoir is very stable and can reactivate virus replication if a patient stops taking antiretroviral drugs for any reason. Our study suggests that there may be means of activating latent virus in the body while the patient is on antiretroviral drugs to prevent the virus from spreading, and that this may eliminate at least some of the latent reservoir.”
With further development, the technique could lower the viral reservoir enough for people with HIV to be able to discontinue their anti-viral therapy, Marsden said.
SUW133 is based on bryostatin 1, a natural compound extracted from a marine animal called Bugula neritina. The research determined that the new compound is less toxic than the naturally occurring version.
“The findings are significant because several previous attempts to activate latent virus have had only limited success. Most studies showed weak activation of the virus, or severe toxicity, with little effect on the reservoir,” noted senior author Jerome Zack, professor and chair of the UCLA department of microbiology.
Marsden concluded results in mice will not necessarily translate to humans. The study was published in journal PLOS Pathogens.
In another HIV related development, the Center for Disease Control, CDC has declared that HIV patients cannot transmit the virus to sexual partners if they have suppressed their viral load with medication. Until now, the agency has refused to say for certain that people who religiously take HIV drugs are not a danger to society.
A person with HIV becomes ‘undetectable’ when treatment suppresses the virus to a level so low in their blood that it cannot be detected by measurements. Scores of studies on more than 40,000 people have shown that if a person is undetectable and stays on treatment, they cannot pass HIV on to a partner.
The strength of this association first became clear a few years ago, and gradually health officials have been acknowledging the results.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the HIV/AIDS division at the National Institutes of Health, was the first high-level figure to back the statement that ‘U=U’ (undetectable equals untransmittable’.