A momentous discovery brings the scientific community one step closer to finding the cure for AIDS.
In a groundbreaking achievement, a team from The Scripps Research Institute in California created a cell culture that is resistant to the HIV virus.
Their approach, which research senior leader Dr. Richard Lerner, an immunology professor at the institute, describes as a form of "cellular vaccination," aims to provide long-term protection against the virus.
HIV-Resistant Cells Could Replace Antiretroviral Medication
In a TSRI news release, researchers explained the procedure works by attaching HIV-fighting antibodies to immune cells.
Lab experiments showed these upgraded power-packing cells "can quickly replace diseased cells, potentially curing the disease in a person with HIV" through gradual displacement.
Unlike other antibody therapies, where the agents float freely in the bloodstream and are administered in relatively low concentrations, the new technique allows the antibodies to bind to the cell's surface.
The technique is known as the "neighbor effect" and relies on the effectiveness of close-by antibodies, which is more potent than having them widely distributed in the bloodstream.
"The ultimate goal will be the control of HIV in patients with AIDS without the need for other medications," say study authors.
Before this approach can be tested on patients, TSRI will enlist the collaboration of independent cancer research and treatment center City of Hope, in conducting into the new therapy's efficacy and safety.
Dr. Joseph Alvarnas, director of the center's value-based analytics department, believes this research is particularly important because people with HIV still have a high risk of cancer even if they are on antiretroviral treatments.
"HIV is treatable but not curable — this remains a disease that causes a lot of suffering," said Dr. Alvarnas.
'Survival Of The Fittest' In A Petri Dish
Initially modeled after the rhinovirus (the most frequent cause of the common cold), the procedure was later adapted for the HIV virus.
Researchers grew human cells in a petri dish and delivered them a gene that activates the production of specific antibodies.
The antibodies adhere to a crucial receptor on the cell's surface, called CD4, which all HIV strains need to attach to in order to develop the infection.
This protects the receptor and effectively hinders the virus's access to it, preventing the infection from spreading.
In the absence of these antibodies, the immune cells were killed by HIV. Only protected cells survived and multiplied, passing on the protective gene to new cells.
Jia Xie, senior staff scientist at TSRI and first author of the study, plans to continue his research by trying to engineer antibodies that protect a different receptor on the cell surface.
The findings have been detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.