Good news for many that finally a new cure for HIV is has found. Yes, Pittsburgh scientists reported that they found an immunotherapy approach that kicks and kills HIV out of hiding in the immune system.
It’s a common belief since years that HIV/AIDS is one epidemic disease which has no cure. And that was true also. There are treatments available for the disease which allow the patient to live a healthy life but, they are not a permanent cure.
However, this belief has been changed now. Yes, and not only us but this news surely has made us heave a sigh of relief to millions of people.
There were approximately 36.9 million people worldwide living with HIV/aids in 2017, according to UNAIDS. And, at the same time, 940,000 [670,000−1,300,000] people died globally in 2017 from HIV.
Well, researchers are still trying hard to find a permanent cure for this. Recently another study was published in EBioMedicine journal which was conducted by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
The study stated that the immune cells are the cure for HIV/AIDS. And, this is the all-in-one remedy for HIV/AIDS.
In this process, the immune cells recognize the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and then kick the cells out of hiding. This all happens, particularly in the immune system.
However, this discovery has been only made in the laboratory. Therefore, it is still to be examined in clinical trials. At least, it is confirmed that the cells that were used for the study were taken from HIV patients.
In an interview, Robbie Mailliard, Senior Author, and Ph.D., Assistant Professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt Public Health spoke about it. He said,
“A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV, and it's usually built around the 'kick and kill' concept -- kick the virus out of hiding and then kill it.”
“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.”
Additionally, Co-Author Charles Rinaldo, Ph.D., Professor, and Chair of Pitt Public Health's Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology said about how they got the clue for such kind of cure.
“The immune system spends a lot of time keeping CMV in check; in some people, 1 one out of every 5 T cells are specific to that one virus.
That got us thinking -- maybe those cells that are specific to fighting CMV also make up a large part of the latent HIV reservoir. So we engineered our immunotherapy to not only target HIV, but to also activate CMV-specific T helper cells.”
Further, they executed the experiment. For that, all they needed was blood from people with HIV controlled by ART. So, they told in an interview that around two dozen people stepped up from the Pitt Men's Study.
Jan Kristoff, First Author, M.S., a Doctoral candidate at Pitt Public Health said,
“The MACS participants were vital to the success of this study.
You have to collect a lot of blood to find T cells latently infected with functional HIV in people on ART -- it could be as few as 1 out of every 10 million cells. So the men would sit for as long as four hours hooked up to a machine that processed their blood and came back multiple times to give more samples.”
Further, Kristoff isolated immune cells called dendritic cells in addition to the T helper cells which Senior Author Mailliard describes as the quarterbacks of the immune system:
“They hand off the ball and dictate the plays, telling other immune cells where to go and what to fight.”
Well to cancer immunotherapies, dendritic cells are key cells, and Senior Author Mailliard earlier also worked with a team developing such a therapy to treat melanoma. Moreover, to induce the immune system to kill HIV, conventional dendritic cells also have been used. However, they hadn't yet been utilized to "kick" HIV out of hiding in the body.
So, the team engineered "antigen-presenting type 1-polarized, monocyte-derived dendritic cells" (MDC1) in this study. And, that was primed in the lab to seek out and initiate CMV-specific cells with the thought that they also may carry latent HIV.
So, the time MDC1 added back to T helper cells carrying latent HIV, they changed that latency as expected, and also kicked the virus out of hiding. And in this way, the big test came.
“Without adding any other drug or therapy, MDC1 were then able to recruit killer T cells to eliminate the virally infected cells.
With just MDC1, we achieved both kick and kill -- it's like the Swiss Army knife of immunotherapies. To our knowledge, this is the first study to program dendritic cells to incorporate CMV to get the kick, and also to get the kill.”
It is expected that this study will lead to the development of a vaccine. That means, in the future, this vaccine will help HIV patients even to stop taking medicine.
Also, these regular medicines will enable patients to have a normal life like others. And, they will not need the medicines after getting vaccinated. Also, they will have a normal life without everyday medications.
As one more benefit, the vaccine will help them to keep a check on the HIV, and if ever detected in future, it will not only kick the virus out of hiding but will also kill it.
These medicines are part of antiretroviral therapy. Under this therapy, they dominate the HIV infection fairly well and also control it. Hence, the virus cannot be detected in the blood because of this. More importantly, it will not infect other people as well.
However, this is only possible when the person takes medicines regularly because if the person stops taking the medicines, the case will not be similar. Also, the virus will become potent enough to cause HIV/AIDS if any irregularity occurs.
Moreover, as one disadvantage, the medicines have some side-effects also. And, because of this, scientists are trying to discover a replacement for it.
The first person who got treated was Timothy Ray Brown. He was an American living in Berlin. First, he was cured with HIV and then with advanced leukemia in 2007.
Gero Hütter, a German oncologist, M.D., chose to try a never-before-attempted stem cell transplant with Brown. However, the method was extremely unsafe. Still, Brown's disease remains in remission, and successful.
Also, he has been not using HIV medications after his transplant. And, it’s been 12 years now there is still no sign of active HIV anywhere in his body.
After Brown, an unnamed man living in London is the second patient who has been cured of HIV in September 2017. He also faced the same situation as Brown although the cancer type was different. He was suffering from Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer) which stopped responding to treatment. Then later he was matched with a donor whose CD4 cells had a rare mutation, and because of them, it became impossible for most strains of HIV to infect them. In this way, the attempt appears to have worked for the second time in history.
However, it’s been only three years since transplant though it's too early to call the London patient "cured." Well, doctors gave him the green signal on March 4, 2019, to stop taking HIV medication two years ago only. After months of watching and waiting, doctors claimed that he is indeed the second person ever cured of HIV infection.
Only two days after the second patient became HIV-free that is 6 March 2019, another team claimed that they removed the infection in a third patient. The team from the Netherlands declared this new about the “Düsseldorf patient.”
Same as the other two HIV-free patients, this patient also underwent the same type of bone marrow transplant. In this case, researcher Annemarie Wensing of University Medical Center Utrecht told New Scientist magazine that it is now three months after he stopped taking antiviral drugs, biopsies from the patient’s gut and till now lymph nodes show no infectious HIV.
Hence, we have seen how three people got cured of this threatening disease and what was the new study conducted by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in terms of HIV.
Well, it’s surely a piece of great news that our doctors and scientists have found a cure for HIV as stats suffering from the disease is very high. It’s no less than an achievement in the field of medical science. Isn’t it?
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