HIV cure research has been an ongoing process for decades. Some groundbreaking discoveries have been made once in a while. But humans are in dark about getting rid of the age-old pandemic.
Through research and development, life has been made livable with medication and treatment despite being affected by the virus. But to entirely live a normal life free of the constant worry is not yet possible.
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HIV Reservoir Needs To Be Mapped
Researchers have developed a new method of assessing the HIV reservoir, the murkily amorphous entity that lives on in the body despite antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and that frustrates attempts to cure the virus.
The central component of the viral reservoir is long-lived memory T cells that retain a recollection of specific pathogens. When such cells are infected by HIV and enter a resting state, they remain under the radar of ARVs, for decades sometimes. The natural radar works only when cells are replicating and churning out new copies of the virus.
A major problem bedevilling HIV cure researchers is the difficulty in simply knowing what they’re up against in attempting to cure the virus when they can’t map the viral reservoir with a high level of precision.
“Tell people to keep fighting. Fight for a cure for HIV that works for everyone. I never wanted to be the only one.”
Timothy Ray Brown, the first man to be cured of HIV, is now facing death from leukaemia.
He and his partner Tim spoke with @MyFabDisease.https://t.co/nkDdXBJyWU
— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) September 23, 2020
Latently infected, or resting, immune cells lack a protein on their surface that helps researchers find the cells. Reactivating the cells produces this protein, but it also causes alterations in the cells’ biology that masks the subset of memory T cells to which they belonged when they were infected by the virus.
Seeking to work around this means by which reservoir cells mask their original identities, laying dormant for years, sometimes decades.
A New Perspective
The new approach allows investigators to track nearly 40 proteins on the surface of potential reservoir cells as they seek to find similarities between such cells. This level of precision also allows them to compare the cells before and after they are reactivated. This in turn permits them to match reactivated cells with the type of pre-activation cells they most resemble.
The research team analyzed millions of immune cells collected from eight people with HIV who were on antiretroviral treatment. They drew the cells from the individuals’ gut tissue and blood and from the lymph nodes of one person.
The investigators’ finding that numerous markers were shared between the gut and lymph node reservoir cells raises hopes for the development of cure therapies that would target large swaths of the reservoir at once and that would work for many people living with HIV.
More Good News With Regards to HIV Cure Research
Another considerable benefit of the new method of analyzing the viral reservoir is that it was able to do a vastly better job of zeroing in on reservoir cells that contained virus capable of producing new viral copies that can successfully infect other cells. The vast majority of reservoir cells contain defective HIV, so cure therapies that go after those cells, which pose no major threat, waste energy in the process.