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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Pittsburgh: Scientists Develop ‘Swiss Army Knife’ Immunotherapy that Kicks and Kills HIV by Exploiting a Common Virus

In a first on the quest to cure human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health scientists report today in EBioMedicine that they’ve developed an all-in-one immunotherapy approach that not only kicks HIV out of hiding in the immune system, but also kills it. The key lies in immune cells designed to recognize an entirely different virus.

The discovery, made in the laboratory using cells from people with HIV, is yet to be tested in clinical trials, but could lead to the development of a vaccine that would allow people positive for HIV to stop taking daily medications to keep the virus in check.

“A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV, and it’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept – kick the virus out of hiding and then kill it,” said senior author Dr. Robbie Mailliard, assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt Public Health. “There are some promising therapies being developed for the kill, but the Holy Grail is figuring out which cells are harboring HIV so we know what to kick.”

Dr. Mailliard and his team decided to look at a different virus that also goes latent and infects more than half of adults – and 95 percent of those with HIV: Cytomegalovirus (CMV).

The team engineered “antigen-presenting type 1-polarized, monocyte-derived dendritic cells” (MDC1) that were primed in the lab to seek out and activate CMV-specific cells, with the thinking that they also may contain latent HIV.

When the MDC1 were added back to T helper cells containing latent HIV, they reversed that latency as expected, kicking the virus out of hiding.

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