Promising Immunotherapy Experiment Could Replace ART in HIV Treatment

There are new indications that scientists are really close to getting a cure for HIV. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health have reported the development of an all-in-one immunotherapy approach. Although yet to undergo clinical trials, the discovery has been said to kick out the virus from the immune system and kill it.

HIV Virus

HIV Virus

As published on EBiozmedicine, HIV-infected cells were used in the discovery and could potentiate the development of a treatment regimen that could replace the daily medication taken by persons living with HIV and reduce viral load in no time.

“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,” said Robbie Mailliard, assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt Public Health.

We could be doing away with ART soon

In current medical practice, Antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV management is plagued with many challenges. Although ART is usually able to control HIV infection until the virus is barely detectable and at levels that cannot be transmitted, their side effects are still significantly burdensome.  In addition, compliance with the drugs is quite important because if a person living with HIV stops taking the daily regimen of drugs, there could be a relapse and the development of AIDS. This is as a result of the reenactment of the initially latent virus that has been incorporated into the DNA of certain immune cells called the T helper cells.



The experimental work of Mailliard and his team involved them looking into a different virus that also goes latent and infects more than half of adults – and 95 percent of those with HIV, the Cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV causes eye infections and other serious illnesses.

“The immune system spends a lot of time keeping CMV in check; in some people, 1 out of every 5 T cells is specific to that particular virus,” said co-author Charles Rinaldo. This was the basis of the idea that maybe the cells that are specific to fighting CMV also make up a large part of the latent HIV reservoir. Hence, the new immunotherapy techniques were developed not only to target HIV but to also to activate CMV-specific T helper cells.

Pitt Men’s Study Provides Participants

The process involved obtaining blood samples from a number of people who were on ART to control their HIV infection. About 20 participants were recruited from Pitt Men’s Study, the Pittsburgh site of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), a research study of the natural history of treated and untreated HIV/AIDS in men who have sex with men.

This would later be considered vital to the success of the experiment according to Jan Kristoff, M.S., a doctoral candidate at Pitt Public Health. He stated that after sample collections, they had to search out the T cells latently infected which could pose a lot of difficulties since they were on ARTs already. The volunteers also had to wait for up to 4 hours sometimes and even stop by the lab for blood check-ups.

This was not all the discovery. They were also able to isolate dendritic cells which are instrumental in the coordination of the immune system. This is particularly significant in cancer immunotherapies as dendritic cells have been used to induce the immune system to kill the HIV virus. They can not, however, be adapted into “antigen-presenting type 1-polarized, monocyte-derived dendritic cells” (MDC1) that were primed in the lab to seek out and activate CMV-specific cells, with the belief that they also may contain latent HIV. MDC1 has been able to recruit killer T cells to remove the infected cells.

Next step for the Mailliard and his team

The team is now pursuing funding to begin clinical trials to test this property of MDC1 in humans.





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