New antibodies “could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV”

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A new study regarding genetically modified germ-fighting antibodies has shown considerable promise, proving to drastically reduce viral load count; it is theorized that the antibodies could destroy the AIDS virus in patients’ cells altogether.

The test was performed on monkeys infected with a relative of HIV, known as SHIV.

The results of the study, written by Dr. Steven Deeks and Joseph M. McCune of the University of California, were published October 30 by the journal Nature. In the editorial accompanying the study, Louis Picker, from Oregon Health & Science University, wrote that “The findings of these two papers could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV.”

“The antibodies themselves are very, very special,” said Dan Barouch, the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “These antibodies should be explored for a variety of different clinical applications. Clearly where there’s going to be substantial interest is evaluating their potential role in a cure.”

In an interview with Bloomberg, Barouch still made it a point to say, “We’re not saying those animals are cured.”

After the antibody treatment was stopped, viral load went back up in fifteen of the eighteen monkeys in the trial, as expected. However, it was at lower levels than before, and in three of them, the SHIV virus remained at undetectable levels even after eight months, implying the antibodies are still present and fighting the virus. That would indicate the antibodies have converted the monkeys into “elite controllers,” HIV-positive patients whose own immune systems are able to keep the virus in check.

Under normal circumstances, the bodies of patients infected with HIV do create antibodies to fight it, but are unable to do so effectively. Antiviral drug regimens block the virus from taking over patients’ immune system cells and replicating, but neither directly target the virus nor kill infected cells. The new antibodies tested do both.

A similar study from the National Institutes of Health showed equally encouraging results with a smaller test group.

429Magazine

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