Australian scientists have made a major breakthrough in the fight against HIV which may eventually lead to a cure for the disease. According to the World Health Organisation
, there are currently 33.4 million people infected with the virus worldwide. The use of antiretroviral therapy has meant that people infected with HIV are living longer lives however there remains no cure for the virus.
According to Co-Head of the Burnet Institute’s Centre for Virology and Director of The Alfred’s Infectious Diseases Unit, Professor Sharon Lewin resting cell infection has been one of the major barriers to curing HIV. While a cure may still be many years away, scientists at the Burnet Institute, Monash University and The Alfred have moved closer to finding an eventual cure through identifying the method in which HIV enters and infects resting cells. For people living with HIV, the implication of infected resting cells is that as soon as anti-HIV drugs are stopped, the virus re-activates and begins to replicate.
“Our team of researchers has now identified the path by which the virus can infect resting CD4-T cells and establish latency,”
Professor Lewin said.
“We have shown that a family of proteins, called chemokines, that guide resting cells through the blood and into lymph node tissue can “unlock the door” and allow HIV to enter and set up a silent or “latent” infection. Once HIV gets into these cells, the virus can then go to sleep. These “silently” infected cells are not cleared by anti-HIV drugs or the immune system. Once a patient stops the anti-HIV drugs, the virus can then wake up and gets going again”.
“Understanding this mechanism will enable new treatment options to be developed which could block latent infection. This new laboratory model of latent HIV infection can also be used to screen drugs that may one day eliminate latent infection.”
said coauthor and clinical immunologist Dr Paul Cameron
Director of the Burnet Institute Professor Brendan Crabb said the breakthrough was a long time coming and heralded the beginning of a new chapter in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Professor Lewin said the research was a collaborative effort involving scientists from the Burnet Institute, The Alfred, Monash University, University of Montreal, Canada and the Westmead Millennium Research Institute in Sydney.