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The Cure

New Strategy May Be HIV Cure

New Strategy May Be HIV Cure


Kick and kill would use immune system to fight of HIV.

Research published in Clinical Infectious Diseases shows a new strategy for fighting HIV, called a kick and kill strategy. The kick and kill strategy would aim to cure HIV by activating the body’s own immune system to fight the virus. In a kick and kill strategy, a vaccine is used to stimulate the immune system, then a dormant form of the virus in white blood cells is re-awakened with a chemical “kick” that boosts the immune system to target and kill HIV.

In theory, this strategy sounds great, but in practice, researchers are skeptical. Previous researchers were unsure whether the body could handle a reintroduction to a full-blown reactivation of HIV. But this new research — though based on just a single case study — does show some promise.

“Our study shows that the immune system can be as powerful as the most potent combination drug cocktails,” explains study co-author and Wellcome Trust fellow Dr. Ravi Gupta, University College of London Infection and Immunity. “We’re still a long way from being able to cure HIV patients, as we still need to develop and test effective vaccines, but this study takes us one step closer by showing us what type of immune responses an effective vaccine should induce.”

The study led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Oxford and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at a 59-year-old HIV patient known as an “elite controller” or, a patient whose immune system is highly active against HIV. Elite controllers make up about 0.3 percent of HIV positive people, and while they eventually need drug treatments to prevent AIDS, they can go much longer than other patients without intervention.

The patient, who had HIV and myeloma, a cancer of bone marrow, had his bone marrow completely removed and replaced using his own stem cells. This procedure caused a reintroduction of HIV that flooded his system. The level of the virus in his bloodstream went from 50 copies per milliliter to 28,000 copies. Once his immune function returned, there was a drop back to 50 copies within six weeks.

The patient wasn’t given any HIV treatments during this time out of fear of side effects, however it is possible that had he been given treatments, he could have been cured. Researchers are cautious of making such statements though.

“We need to be cautious in interpreting observations from a single subject,” says Dr. Nilu Goonetilleke, who began working on the study at the University of Oxford and is now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “However, demonstration even from a single subject, that our immune system can rapidly control HIV-1 tells us a lot about the types of immune responses we should target and augment through vaccination.” 

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