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UCLA Researchers Come One Step Closer to a Cure for AIDS

Thursday January 20, 2022
Originally published on January 15, 2022

It's been five years since researchers first developed a method to kill HIV-infected cells by using the body's immune system. Now that technology may be one step closer to success, as reported by The Hill.

"These findings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years," said Dr. Jocelyn Kim, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future."

According to UNAIDS, more than 38 million people are living with HIV worldwide. Many people rely on antiretrovirals to suppress the virus, but once an individual stops treatment, the immune system can, once again, weaken, leading to potentially fatal infections or cancers.

The UCLA-led study continued its strategic "kick and kill" research, which "coaxes the dormant virus to reveal itself in infected cells, so it can then be targeted and killed."

The new study, performed on mice receiving antiretrovirals, uses a synthetic compound called SUW133 to flush HIV-infected cells out of hiding, then injecting healthy natural killer cells into the mice's blood to kill the infected cells. "The combination of SUW133 and injections of healthy natural killer immune cells completely cleared the HIV in 40% of the HIV-infected mice," reports UCLA.

Researchers are still several steps away from human trials, though. Kim said their next objective is to refine the approach further to eliminate HIV in 100% of the mice they test in future experiments. "We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans," she said.

As EDGE previously reported, other scientific developments show promise for an HIV vaccine.

Authors of a new paper published in Nature Medicine took note of "unsatisfactory" previous approaches to developing an HIV vaccine, pointing out that strategies based around the use of mRNA "have recently shown remarkable effectiveness against COVID-19," and documenting how the research team "designed a novel vaccine platform" using the technology.