There's been a breakthrough in AIDS
research. Scientists have found out
where HIV, the AIDS virus, hides when it's under attack from anti-retroviral
far, the drugs have managed to keep HIV at very low levels in the body. But they are unable to get rid of the virus
completely. Scientists have been
searching for places where the virus could hide. Now, they believe they have
found them. The discovery could eventually
lead to better treatments and perhaps a cure.
Rafick-Pierre Sekaly, scientific director at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy
Institute in Port St. Lucie, Florida, spoke to VOA about the difficulty in
finding HIV's hiding places.
had some clues, but nobody had been able to identify precisely the cells in
which it was hiding," he says.
Assumptions were wrong
went with the assumption that by using more and more potent drugs that target
the virus that we were going to be able to get rid of it. And in fact what we found is that that will
never work," he says.
says a different approach is needed to eliminate the virus.
have to target not the virus, but the cells in which the virus is hiding. And
that I think it is a very different concept than what everybody has been pushing
for. That clearly is a major finding
that we have got to the table," he says.
So, where is HIV hiding?
is hiding in a cell…that can remain in your body for the rest of your
life. It's a very important cell in the
immune system. This is the kind of cells that are called memory T-cells. They are the cells that carry the memory of seeing
an infectious disease," he says.
a person is vaccinated against a particular disease, these memory T-cells
remember how to respond if that pathogen is somehow introduced into the
body. They then launch a very specific
they are also the perfect hiding place for HIV.
we honed down on these cells, identified precisely as the cells as the ones
where the virus was hiding," he says.
Like a chameleon
important to understand the virus evolves. It kills the cells that can mount the immune
response… and it hides in those cells that remain in the body for the rest of
your life…. And so it adapts like a chameleon," he says.
that HIV's hiding places have been discovered, what's next?
think what we need to do now, and that really is going to be…our major
challenge, is really to find drugs that can kill the cells in which the virus
is hiding without affecting the memory T-cells that are good for the body," he
says he's "quite optimistic" researchers will be able to develop such drugs
"because we've already gone a long way in targeting specifically those cells."
says there's a "long way ahead," however, to find such medications, "but at
least now we have a target."
He says advances in science in recent
years should help speed the search.