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Progress in the Fight to Beat HIV

by Staff Contributor on April 13, 2017
Lifestyle

A ground-breaking discovery has recently been made in the medical field, which is bringing scientists one step closer to discovering a way to cure AIDS.

In a critical feat, a medical group from The Scripps Research Institute in California was able to create a cell culture that has proven to be resistant to the HIV virus.

According to research senior leader Dr. Richard Lerner, who is an immunology professor at The Scripps Research Institute, their approach is to create a method of “cellular vaccination,” with the intention of providing long-term protection against the virus.

In a report divulged by the TSRI, researchers went into depth on how the procedure functions—it efficiently attaches HIV-fighting antibodies to immune cells.

Lab experiments done so far have displayed that these enforced power-packing cells “can quickly replace diseased cells, potentially curing the disease in a person with HIV” through ongoing displacement.

Other antibody therapies involve agents floating freely in the bloodstream, and are dispensed in relatively low concentrations. This new technique, however, enables the antibodies to bind directly to the surface of the cell.

This innovative technique is regarded as the “neighbor effect” and it depends on the effectiveness of antibodies that are nearby. These features enable the method to be potent than having the antibodies less concentrated, and thus more dispersed, throughout the bloodstream of the patient.

The authors of the study have confidently affirmed that, “The ultimate goal will be the control of HIV in patients with AIDS without the need for other medications.”

Although the finding is encouraging, it cannot be tested on human patients at the moment. Before the technique is ready to be tested on patients, TSRI must procure a partnership with the independent cancer research and treatment facility City of Hope. This proposed collaboration will focus on steering the new technique towards a state of greater ensured efficacy and safety. This will greatly diminish the risk to patients involved in the testing of the technique, as it would be counterintuitive to subject patients to tests too early on in the process of developing the method.

Director of the City of Hope’s value-based analytics department, Dr. Joseph Alvarnas, has expressed the opinion that the research is especially vital because those with HIV continue to have an elevated risk of cancer, even if they are undergoing antiretroviral treatments.

Despite the excitement of the recent developments, Alvarnas underlines the importance of remembering a vital characteristic of HIV. In a statement, Alvarnas said, “HIV is treatable but not curable—this remains a disease that causes a lot of suffering.”

The idea for this ground-breaking technique came from findings geared at treating the rhinovirus, which is the most recurrent cause of the common cold in humans. After its success when applied to the rhinovirus, scientists decided to attempt to adapt the procedure for the HIV virus.

To do so, researchers began by growing human body cells in a petri dish. During this process, the scientists inserted in the human cells a gene which serves to activate the production of specific antibodies.

These antibodies then adhere to a vital receptor on the surface of the cell, called CD4. This receptor is the location where all HIV strands must attach to in order to develop the infection.

By having the antibodies attach to this receptor, the antibodies function as a defense method in impeding the access of HIV to the location. Thus, this inhibits the infection as it is now incapable of spreading.

Without these antibodies present, the immune cells were killed by HIV. Protected cells were the only ones able to survive and multiple, consequently passing on the protective gene to new cells.

Senior staff scientist at TSRI and primary author of the study, Jia Xie, intends to continue his research by attempting to engineer antibodies that protect another receptor on the surface of the cell.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

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Staff Contributor
Born and raised New Yorker with foreign parents; aftermaths include: having the tendency to switch languages mid-sentence, an endless stock of funny stories (normally founded on cultural/linguistic misunderstanding), a love of travel and reading, an excessive amount of curiosity (not nosy, just intrigued!), a sincere appreciation for food and coffee, and the ability to react to just about any situation with an infectious bout of laughter.
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