Researchers at John Hopkins University recently looked at whether awakening latent CD4+ T cells so that they could begin making HIV-fighting proteins would backfire and ultimately kill the otherwise dormant cells where the HIV virus hides.
Dr. Robert F. Siliciano, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led a team of researchers in extracting immune cells and reservoir-based HIV from 25 infected people. The cells were then studied in the laboratory and in mice.
In the study, 10 of the participants started combination anti-HIV therapy within three months of infection, while the other 15 started three months or more after the onset of infection. In the early-treatment group, it was discovered that the majority of the HIV-infected CD4+ T cells in the viral reservoirs were able to be detected by killer T cells. In the other group, most of the HIV that infected CD4+ T cells in the reservoirs had developed mutations that allowed the infected CD4+ T cells to escape detection by the killer T cells.
These findings aside, the scientists discovered that most HIV-infected people in the late-treatment group also had other killer T cells that recognized parts of HIV that had not mutated. These cells were not effective at destroying their targets, so the researchers stimulated them with a mixture of HIV protein fragments before exposing them to unmutated parts of the virus. The cells then effectively killed the HIV-infected cells in both the lab samples and mice.
Siliciano's team concluded that a therapeutic vaccine that boosts the T-cell response to HIV could ultimately be part of the cure for the virus.