July 29, 2016
This week, a study identifies a protein that may be able to both reactivate latent HIV and stop it from replicating. Another study finds that artificial T cells made from several newly discovered broadly neutralizing antibodies could help the immune system fight off HIV. Meanwhile, new research shows that HIV infections have increased in 74 countries over the past decade. To beat HIV, you have to follow the science!
Researchers have identified a protein that not only reactivates latent HIV-infected cells, but also causes the virus to mutate in such a way as to render it noninfectious, according to a study published in PLOS Pathogens.
The protein, galectin-9, changes sugars that coat a cell to signal HIV that it should reactivate. It also raises the levels of another protein, which in turn alters the virus's genetic code, making the cell significantly less infectious.
Galectin-9 could become an important part of the "shock and kill" strategy for an HIV cure. That strategy focuses on reactivating the latent reservoir of HIV-infected cells and disabling those cells by strengthening the body's own immune response or by using a therapeutic vaccine.
The current study was conducted in a laboratory using cells from people living with HIV who were on antiretoviral therapy and whose viral load was suppressed. Further research and animal studies "will be critical in translating our findings into novel therapeutic or curative approaches," study authors concluded.
Artificial T cells using several newly discovered broadly neutralizing antibodies (BNAbs) could be used to strengthen the body's immune system in order to fight off HIV, a study published in the Journal of Virology showed.
These T cells, called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), have been used successfully to treat cancer. Now a team at the University of California-Los Angeles has engineered CAR versions that target HIV-infected cells rather than tumors. The research builds on earlier unsuccessful trials that used human CD4 cell-based CARs, as opposed to the current BNAb-based ones. These seven CARs now target different sites where HIV binds to a cell.
All engineered cells were effective against the virus, but how much antiviral activity they developed depended on the specific strain of HIV used in the experiments. Next up is finding a way to get these CARs from the lab into people, study author Dr. Otto Yang said in the study press release.
Rates of new HIV infections (HIV incidence) are increasing in a number of countries across the globe, even while HIV/AIDS-related mortality is declining, according to a study published in The Lancet HIV. The research is part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study, which provides data on a variety of diseases and injuries around the world to inform policy decisions on resource allocation.
The highest number of people newly living with HIV worldwide (3.3 million) was recorded in 1997. That figure then declined rapidly through 2005 and has held fairly steady at around 2.6 million a year since then. However, HIV incidence differed greatly from country to country, with 74 nations recording increases in new infections.
While the development and greater availability of combination antiretroviral therapy has helped to reduce HIV/AIDS-related deaths from 1.8 million in 2005 to 1.2 million in 2015, the number of new infections "represents a collective failure which must be addressed through intensified prevention efforts and continued investment in HIV vaccine research," said founding executive director of UNAIDS Peter Piot, M.D., Ph.D., in the study press release.
Barbara Jungwirth is a freelance writer and translator based in New York.
Follow Barbara on Twitter: @reliabletran.
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