The strongest proof that HIV can be cured comes from the case of Timothy Brown, the “Berlin patient.” That triumph was predicated on physicians taking advantage of nature’s own experiment: the existence of a genetic mutation in a normal cell protein, CCR5, the main co-receptor that HIV uses to gain entry into a cell.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have discovered a way of creating HIV- resistant cells by using antibodies to block HIV directly on the cell surface. Interestingly, in lab experiments, the resistant cells largely replaced the susceptible cells, potentially leading to long-term HIV protection.
In prior publications, these researchers have documented that heart attacks, sudden death due to heart failure, and stroke are more frequent among HIV-infected individuals, despite complete viral suppression by antiretroviral therapy (ART). These conditions are particularly worrisome as people with HIV are aging.
In a novel approach to conquering HIV, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is pairing HIV researchers with bioengineers to address the main barrier to a cure for HIV: the persistent reservoirs of virus not cleared by antiretroviral therapy. A new round of Investment grants, totaling $1.2 million, will support six new research projects aimed at bringing to bear highly advanced technologies that until recently might have belonged in the pages of a science fiction novel.
In an editorial in the January issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, amfAR-funded scientist Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), working with colleagues from UCSF and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, outline another approach involving interferon that may be superior at achieving HIV suppression.