UNC research creates “guided missile” strategy to kill hidden HIV

Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine have deployed a potential new weapon against HIV – a combination therapy that targets HIV-infected cells that standard therapies cannot kill.

Using mouse models that have immune systems composed of human cells, researchers led by J. Victor Garcia, found that an antibody combined with a bacterial toxin can penetrate HIV-infected cells and kill them even though standard antiretroviral therapy, also known as ART, had no effect. Killing these persistent, HIV-infected cells is a major impediment to curing patients of HIV.

“Our work provides evidence that HIV-infected cells can be tracked down and destroyed throughout the body,” said Garcia, professor of medicine and senior author of the study published Jan.9, 2014, in the journal PloS Pathogens.

For people with HIV, ART is life-saving treatment that can reduce the amount of virus in the body to undetectable levels. But as soon as treatment is stopped, the virus begins to replicate again. This means that people with HIV must be on medications for life. For some people, therapies are not without serious side effects.

In patients on ART, the virus either remains dormant or it multiplies very slowly – it persists, hidden, even though a cocktail of drugs is aligned against it.

Garcia’s findings advance the so-called “kick-and-kill” strategy for HIV eradication – if the persistent virus is exposed, it can be targeted and killed with a new therapy.

To attack persistent HIV-infected cells, Garcia and colleagues used humanized bone marrow/liver/thymus mice – or BLT mice – with entire immune systems composed of human cells. This allows his team to study the distribution of persistent HIV-infected cells throughout the body and test strategies to eliminate those cells.

HIV bursting from a cell during replication of persistent HIV-infected cells. (Wikimedia Commons)

HIV bursting from a cell during replication of persistent HIV-infected cells. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more about the research.

By Lisa Chensvold, UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

Published January 10, 2014.