Though no human trials have taken place yet, doctors claim the new treatment kicks HIV virions out of hiding in the body–a longtime obstacle in developing a cure–and eradicates them. The new approach could also help lead to a functioning vaccine.
“A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV,” said Robbie Mailliard, assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology. “It’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept. There are some promising therapies being developed for the kill, but the Holy Grail is figuring out which cells are harboring HIV so we know what to kick.” He likened the new approach to a Swiss Army knife.
The team working with Mailliard used so-called dendric cells, often used in cancer immunotherapy, to program the body to fight off HIV. Normally, HIV hides in various other cells and tissues to evade the body’s immune response. The new therapy, in essences the immune system where to look for HIV and attack it. Current treatment involves a cocktail of medications which can render HIV undetectable for an indefinite period, but not cure it.
Though the new immune therapy appears promising, the team has yet to procure funding for clinical trials in humans.