Research Milestone as Scientists Discover HIV's Invisibility Cloak

Immunsuppressant drug, used in organ transplant, helps uncover HIV's secret to concealment in the body.

BY Jonathan Carmona

December 02 2013 12:24 PM ET

Research at the University College London has identified the "invisible cloak" that keeps HIV undetected in human cells after infection and allows for the virus' replication without activating the immune system, according to The National.

"HIV is extremely adept at hiding from our body's natural defences, which is part of the reason the virus is so dangerous," Greg Towers, the study's lead author, told the journal. "Now we've identified the virus' invisibility cloak and how to expose it, we've uncovered a weakness that could be exploited for new HIV treaments."

When the immune system detects invading bacteria or viruses, cells in the body activate an anti-viral response and alert surrounding cells, which do the same. However, HIV infects vital white blood cells of the immune system and replicates for a while before the body can detect it - an inexplicable characteristic scientists have worked to understand.

Towers and a team found two molecules inside human cells that are inhibited by HIV after infection and help conceal it, delaying the immune response.

With this identification of the molecules, the research team took lab-grown cells and administered an experimental drug based on Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant drug widely used in organ transplant to prevent rejection.

The results showed that the drug prevented the virus from using the newly identified molecules as a cloak.

"The team used a modified version of the drug, which blocks the effects of the two cloaking molecules without suppressing the immune activity," said Towers' statement.

With the discovery of HIV's "invisible cloak," the hope now, according to the research team, is to develop treatment that helps the body clear the virus even before the infection is able to take hold.

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