MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Scientists discover how to uncloak HIV for immune system

Scientists recently discovered a molecular invisibility cloak that lets HIV hide inside human cells without triggering the immune system, which could lead to new treatment opportunities, according to a study from the Wellcome Trust.

The researchers identified two molecules inside host cells that HIV recruits after infection to stop the virus from reproducing too early, which halts the reaction of the innate immune system. The scientists used an experimental drug to to prevent HIV from obtaining the molecules, exposing the virus to the antiviral immune response. By targeting the cloaking molecules, the researchers found it was much more difficult for the virus to mutate and become resistant to the treatment approach.

"HIV is extremely adept at hiding from our body's natural defenses, which is part of the reason the virus is so dangerous," Greg Towers, the lead author of the study, said. "Now we've identified the virus' invisibility cloak, and how to expose it, we've uncovered a weakness that could be exploited for new HIV treatments."

The experimental drug, based on the organ transplant drug Cyclosporine, was modified to block the effects of the two cloaking molecules without suppressing immune activity. Cyclosporines were previously shown to block HIV replication, but are not suitable for treating infected patients because of negative effects on the immune system.

Towers said there is more research needed for the new approach, but the hope is that his team can develop a treatment that lets the body clear HIV before it takes hold.

"Whilst existing treatments are helping people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives, the challenge of adherence to treatment programs means that drug resistance remains a threat and the virus continues to burden the world's poorest communities," Kevin Moses, the director of science funding at the Wellcome Trust, said. "Understanding how HIV interacts with the body's own defenses might just be crucial for developing the best approaches to therapy."