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Thursday, February 10, 2011

In Australia, Another Hint of HIV Cure

Posted by Michael_Byrne

If you remember last December, the first ever human went from HIV-positive to HIV-negative. The “cure,” a stem cell transplant fortified with a particular sort of HIV resistant strain, was grueling, brutal, and risky. The patient had a one-in-three chance of dying from each of the two transplants. The therapy took two years, and it’s certainly pricey enough that you can be sure the insurance companies of the world will lobby hard to make sure it never gets beyond being classified as “experimental.”
What I’m saying is that curing someone in this case doesn’t indicate that we’ve found a cure. But, researchers in Australia at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute announced this week via a new study that the answer could be as simple as pumping up your body’s immune system. The potential cure has to do with a hormone called interleukin-7, which “reinvigorates” the body’s immune system when it’s faced with something as hard-core as HIV, or Hepatitis or Tuberculosis.
From ScienceDaily today:
“Viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C overwhelm the immune system, leading to establishment of chronic infections that are lifelong and incurable,” [study author] Dr Pellegrini said. “Despite tremendous efforts, long-lived immune responses for some of these viruses are ineffective, because the body is so overrun by virus that the immune system, in particular T cells, just give up trying to battle the infection. Some people have coined the phrase ‘immune exhaustion’ to explain the phenomenon. Our approach is to discover some of the mechanisms that cause this immune exhaustion, and manipulate host genes to see if we can boost the natural immune response in order to beat infection.”
So far, Pellegrini have been able to eliminate an HIV-like infection from a mouse using interleukin-7. The key seems to lie in a gene called SOCS-3 that interleukin-7 shuts off.
“In an overwhelming infection, SOCS-3 becomes highly activated and suppresses the immune response, probably as a natural precaution to prevent ‘out-of-control’ responses that cause collateral damage to body tissue,” Dr Pellegrini said. “In the case of these overwhelming infections, the immune system effectively slams on the brakes too early, and the infection persists.”
So the general idea then is convincing your body that it can do the damn thing and take the infection down. Sort of a pep talk and a Sparks for your T cells.