HIV /AIDS are a range of conditions which are caused due to the HIV virus. An infected person may not notice any symptoms, but as the virus spreads, it slowly makes the immune system break down. A simple cold can be deadly. HIV patients have to be on drugs constantly to fight HIV, as when drugs are stopped, the virus attacks the immune system with vengeance. Scientists have been researching on the most effective ways to combat HIV, and recently some breakthroughs have been achieved, which may prove to be a ray of hope for HIV patients.
Montpellier University’s research
Scientists at the Montpellier University in France have found a marker which can make it possible to identify HIV infected latent T-cells. This could lead to drugs which target the dormant cells, thus eradicating the virus and curing the HIV infected person.
Till now, antiretroviral drugs have been used to keep the HIV virus level down, so that the infected person can lead comparatively normal lives. But the virus which remained in the dormant cells multiplies upon stopping the therapy. The scientists noticed that the biomarker protein known as CD32a was present in only infected cells. After studying the blood samples of 12 HIV infected people undergoing treatment, the isolated cells which displayed that marker, proving that only infected cells carried that marker.
Normal T-cells and those cells which had active HIV virus, did not have the marker. Also, CD32a was not seen on all latent cells, so drugs targeting only the marker would not be enough to kill all dormant cells. Still, this breakthrough is important as this is the first time that latent cells could be identified. The identification of latent cells may be used to improve “kick and kill”, treatment i.e. activating the latent virus and then destroy it with the help of antiretroviral drugs.
The next step of the Montpellier scientists is to duplicate their findings on a diverse group of patients, and test the lymph nodes and stomach tissue which is usually infected with the HIV virus.
AIDS vaccine developed by IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute
Scientists have been working on a vaccine for AIDS for many years with little success. There has been a lot of investment and time put in this research, but there have been only slight glimpses of success. But a group of Spanish scientists revealed a vaccine which might have helped five HIV infected people to check the virus. Some are calling this “functional cure”, and the results have to be verified in larger study groups. The vaccine might help to boost immunity levels without the use of any drugs, although at this stage, it is not known for how long the vaccine would work. According to the researchers, therapeutic vaccination can re-educate T-cells how to control the HIV virus.
There were 13 participants of the study, all of whom had been on ARV treatment for approximately 3.2 years and their treatment had started 6 months after infection, helping to keep HIV levels down. This led the researchers to explore the possibility of the vaccine suppressing the virus. Researchers think that the vaccine which has HIV genes did not allow much mutation, thus keeping the virus at bay. After vaccination, the percentage of white blood cells which controls infection rose to 67% from 4%. Though more tests on a larger scale are required, this vaccine seems to bode well for HIV patients.
Injectable treatment for experienced HIV patients
For HIV patients who have been using ARVs for long and face virologic failure, that is, their medications are not effective any longer, an injectable treatment could be the solution. The company CytoDyn Inc injected PRO 140 into experienced HIV patients. The patients’ HIV was suppressed for more than a year after being injected with PRO 140. The company has now filed for a ‘Breakthrough Designation’ for its antibody PRO 140.
These latest developments augur well for HIV / AIDS patients who would benefit from the new research. All these methods seems to have worked well on the study patients and hopefully, they would be effective on others too, and either destroy the HIV virus completely or keep it in check.