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A novel way to treat HIV and other viral infections relies on specialized T cells

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Posted August 6, 2016

Usually viral infections are treated with antiviral therapies. However, there are some viruses that cleverly hide from these drugs. Now a new study from an international team of scientists is pushing towards curing such viral infections like HIV.

HIV finds hiding spots and currently cannot be cured, but specialized T cells should be able to locate these spots and eradicate them. Image credit: NIAID via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

HIV finds hiding spots and currently cannot be cured, but specialized T cells should be able to locate these spots and eradicate them. Image credit: NIAID via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

Scientists discovered that specialised white blood cells, called the T cells, are able to find such hidden infections in tissues and eliminate them. In order to make these T cells fight such life-long viral infections as HIV, they have to be boosted. Currently HIV is only treated with antiretroviral drugs, which, although effective, have to be taken throughout the lifetime – there simply is no cure for HIV. There are other infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus, which also hide and only become active when immune system of the body is compromised by other factors.

This special kind of T cells, called follicular cytotoxic T cells, can identify and enter such hiding spots, called B cell follicles. This means that there is no safe spot for viruses to hide and virtually all of them could be killed if these cells are boosted – T cells would simply eradicate this hidden virus pool. In other words, this discovery should eventually spawn some new therapies to cure many viral infections, including HIV. Dr Axel Kallies, co-leader of the study, said: “The potential of this discovery is huge. It helps us to understand how we may be able to treat diseases that affect the immune system itself, such as HIV or B cell lymphoma”.

Scientists say that from here there are several ways this research could go. However, one way that scientists are particularly excited about is transferring these specialized T cells into patient’s body and then prescribing special proteins to drag the T cells to the right spots, where HIV or another viral infection would be hiding. There are many news about protein transporters, which are designed to deliver drugs to specific spots in human body, so it does not sound like that much distant future.

Now scientists want to move towards clinic trials as soon as possible. However, as often is the case, it will still take time – scientists estimate five years of work are still needed before this novel therapy idea can be tested with humans.

Source: monash.edu

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