Researchers have developed a technique to eliminate HIV by targeted killing of only HIV-infected cells. This could be a turning point, the scientists believe, as current treatments do not eradicate HIV but rather inhibit virus replication and delay onset.
"While this research is promising, a major caveat with these studies is that they are preliminary," points out Abraham Loyter, Ph.D., of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "So far these experiments have only been shown to cure HIV from small dishes of cultured cells in the authors' laboratory, but the findings are an exciting development in the quest to eradicate this devastating global pandemic."
The research is published in AIDS Research & Therapy in a paper titled "Specific eradication of HIV-1 from infected cultured cells."
On infection, HIV spreads through the human body after it incorporates its DNA into the host cells’ genome. Highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) works by blocking HIV replication at various steps but does not eliminate the infected cells.
Dr. Loyter, Assaf Friedler, Ph.D., and their colleagues at Hebrew University focused on the elimination of infected cells. Dr. Loyter contends that while HIV integrates its DNA into the human genome, it inserts enough DNA to replicate but avoids host genome instability, which could lead to programmed death of the infected cells.
Dr. Loyter and his team thus increased integration of HIV DNA into human genome so that it led to apoptosis. They developed a mix of peptides along with the protease inhibitor Ro 31-8959 that penetrated infected cells and stimulated the activity of the viral integrase. This in turn increased the number of viral DNA molecules integrated into the infected cells, which put the cells into panic mode, causing self-destruction. The investigators say that there was total extermination of the virus, and the combination did not have any effect on noninfected cells.