We Could Finally Be Close To Wiping Out HIV From The Body

HIV has a nasty habit of lying dormant in certain populations of cells, invisible to the immune system and to any drugs we try and attack it with. Purging these so called “reservoirs” and then destroying them is widely regarded as the prerequisite for a long-awaited cure, and new research suggests we might be getting close. Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have created a novel antibody that not only wakes up sleeping HIV, but also sends the immune system after the cells containing these previously hidden pools of virus.

For a single antibody to achieve a two-pronged attack is impressive, and it was achieved, perhaps unsurprisingly, by giving it dual specificity – basically the ability to recognize two different things. More specifically, they made the antibody in such a way that it could both activate white blood cells containing dormant, or latent, HIV, and then prompt their destruction through a process called lysis, whereby the cell membrane gets broken down and the contents fatally spill out.

As described in Nature Communications, they did this by firstly directing the antibody towards a spiky part of the HIV particle called the envelope, which serves to stick the virus to target cells and thus facilitate entry. This structure kind of looks like a lollipop stuck through an orange, with the head of the lolly making initial contact with cells, or more specifically a receptor found on white blood cells called CD4. Because this is such a crucial stage in the virus life cycle, the binding site is highly conserved, or displays little variation among viruses. Targeting it therefore means antibodies have a broad range of activity, rather than only being effective against a few strains of the virus.

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Source News: Iflscience.com
Photo credit: The HIV particle. BioMedical/Shutterstock