Will These HIV-Resistant Super Monkeys Help Save The World?

HIV spreads through the human body by replicating itself inside of white blood T cells. But the sooty mangabey monkeys of west central Africa have a special type of T cell that can survive an HIV-type infection. Are these super monkeys the key to saving humanity from the global pandemic?

Sooty mangabey monkeys have what scientists call “a central memory T cell”, a type of T-cell that is not as hospitable to Simian immunodeficiency virus SIV—also known as monkey HIV or “HIV gone bananas”.

You see, the average human T cell facilitates HIV infection by opening up several molecular channels—or “receptor sites”—that allow HIV to infiltrate the cells more easily. But these monkeys’ “central memory T cells” are much less slutty and don’t open up quite as easily (at least not before dinner and a movie).

Furthermore, central memory T cells also hang out in the lymph nodes, stopping SIV from going into the lymphatic system and turning into full-blown monkey AIDS.

Researchers plan on studying the mangabeys’ central memory T cells to see if they can learn how to turn off the receptors in human T cells. If they can do that, then they can help humans stave off a high viral load, help keep T cell counts high, and assist in avoiding AIDS altogether—something that would help make happy monkeys of all HIV+ people.

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  • TMikel

    Like many – all – people living with HIV, I realize that I am in a race against time. Will an actual cure come in time to save my life. I have an undetectable viral load and 1304 CD4 cells at last count. I also have type 2 diabetes, anemia, elevated cholesterol and tryglicerides from HIV medications and have survived CMO Retinitis, both leukemia and lymphoma, renal failure and cardiac bypass surgery. I am alive but each day I pray for a cure for this dreadful disease which has killed all my gay friends – I currently have none – and so many around the world.

  • Steve

    Its interesting that this species MIGHT hold the cure for HIV seeing as how it is also believed that HIV jumped from these monkeys to humans. But I guess these T cells would explain why the virus had to jump.

    I dunno. I hope that this hypothesis isn’t a waste – even if this species doesn’t give us a cure or really good prevention, at least let’s hope they can help us understand the disease a little bit better. Everyone, gay or straight, positive or negative, alive or yet to come, is depending on it, whether they know or not.

  • sam

    Is it wrong that I giggled out loud at the “hiv goes bananas” remark? >_O the phrase “goes b ananas” just illicits chuckles in me >_>

    Hopefully this goes somewhere…. and isn’t just another ray of hope that we never hear from again….

  • linzee

    @Steve: The general theory in the scientific community is that some (not all) strains of HIV came from zoonosis with SIV in chimpanzees or possibly rhesus macaques–NOT this species of monkey. And in zoology, no research is a waste. Researchers are on this. The only reason scientific output doesn’t always lead to commercial benefits is because huge pharmaceutical companies buy up patents which then never see the light of day, but that’s a different conversation. This particular discovery is great news.

  • B

    No. 1 · TMikel wrote, “Like many – all – people living with HIV, I realize that I am in a race against time. Will an actual cure come in time to save my life.”

    While nobody can state with any accuracy when or if we’ll have a cure, you can expect the rate of progress to improve each year due to technical advances. For example, the cost of sequencing DNA has dropped enormously – a factor of 10,000 over the last 10 years – . With improvements in computer technology – faster processors, multi-processors, and increases in memory, we are getting closer to the point where we can model the behavior of a virus using software (see for an example – we haven’t been trying this before because we didn’t have the computational resources to pull it off). The bottom line is that our ability to try things – search for promising drugs, etc. is speeding up enormously.

  • jj

    you hear about breakthroughs all the time, but then nothing else ever comes of it

  • Syl

    I hope this comes of something. HIV/AIDS is the deadliest of viral immune disorders, and the one of most concern to the LGBT community, and finding a cure would save millions of lives. Beyond that, any research into helping the body resist and overcome viral infections will benefit other areas as well.

    There is increasing interest in the role of viruses in various neuro-immune disorders, including chronic fatigue, lupus, and NIDS. XMRV has been linked by some studies to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. While it’s controversial, some feel that NIDS (Neuro-Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, or “your immune system is fucking broken”) is responsible for the “autism epidemic” (more than 1 in 90 kids in the US, 1 in 30 in S. Korea!), and that opportunistic viral infections (primarily Human Herpes Virus 6 and 7, which gestates in nerve endings, also parvovirus) cause, in tandem with the autoimmune attacks to the nervous system, the symptoms mistaken for the real (but much rarer) textbook, congenital form autism.

    Sorry, tangent, but really, this is an amazing discovery with potential for healthier and longer lives for millions, with and without HIV/AIDS!

  • Alex

    Stories like these make me wish I’d gone into medicine. I like what I’m doing now, but I know I’m intelligent enough to be a medical researcher, and I could be making a real difference in lives instead of just reading on the sidelines.

    @TMikel: I hope we get a cure in time for you.

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