March 9, 2012
US scientists have shown for the first time they can suppress HIV by boosting patients' immune systems while taking them off standard AIDS drugs.
The study set out "to answer the question: Is it possible to control the virus with immune therapy? The answer is yes," said Luis Montaner, an immunologist with Philadelphia's Wistar Institute, which led the research with scientists from the University of Pennsylvania. Montaner presented the results Wednesday in Seattle at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
The 20 study patients received antiretrovirals plus interferon-alfa for five weeks, then interferon-alfa only for up to 24 weeks. Interferon-alfa is an antiviral chemical produced by the human immune system. Any participant whose HIV viral load surged above a low threshold was put back on the AIDS medications immediately. Nine of the patients (45 percent) suppressed HIV on interferon-alfa alone. Three kept the virus in check for 12 weeks; six continued to have suppressed virus at the end of the 24-week study. DNA testing found that seven patients had a significant decrease in HIV hiding in their T-cells.
Previous research had shown interferon alone to be ineffective against HIV. Montaner speculated that the improved results in this study may stem from the overlapping treatment, with the AIDS drugs giving the interferon a chance to prime the immune system for defensive action, much as a vaccine primes it to prevent infection.
"When the study was started, it was expected by most people to fail," Montaner said. "Now, everyone is intrigued and hopeful." The team's next step is finding funding for a larger trial.
03.08.2012; Marie McCullough
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