22 Jul 2014

A small but important step in the battle against HIV

Kick and kill is a rather brutal phrase for a scientific endeavour but it precisely describes attempts to seek out HIV and then destroy it.

And today Danish researchers announced that they have found a method to activate hidden HIV using an anti-cancer drug.


While a small step in the desperate search for a cure for HIV, it is nevertheless an important one and has generated a certain amount of excitement here at the international Aids conference in Melbourne.

The pilot study is tiny – just six patients – but now they can begin the process of recruiting more because their method does at least appear to work.

The problem for researchers has always been the ability of HIV to hide or hibernate in the tiniest of cells called CD4 cells. The recent bad news that the Mississippi baby (now a toddler) has detectable levels of the virus and is back in antiretroviral treatment,  is a case in point.


But the scientists from Aarhus Univeristy and Aarhus University Hospital used the cancer drug, romidepsin, to ‘kick’ enough of the virus out of hibernation that they were able to detect it using standard HIV blood tests (see illustration, above).

CD4 cells are part of the body’s immune system but they cannot fight the virus.  T cells can but they cannot tell if a CD4 cell contains the hibernating virus.   And so it stays there until something makes it active.

The next stage now is to try this kick method to flush out the virus and then use a therapeutic vaccine (there are currently some under development) to kill the HIV.  This would strengthen the ability of the T cells to fight HIV.

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