HIV affects 1.1 million people in the US, and around one in seven of these people aren’t aware they have it. So far, there is no cure for the virus, but new research has made a breakthrough by finding a way to kill latent HIV, which can hide inside the body for years.
HIV is a virus that causes the HIV infection, and the most advanced stage of this of this is known as AIDS. Without control, the disease weakens the immune system and increases the chance of infections. It is mainly spread via blood contamination from sharing needles to take drugs or through having sex.
At the moment, AIDS can be controlled with antiretroviral therapies, which reduce the amount of HIV in the body, allowing sufferers to lead a relatively normal life. These drugs usually work against actively-replicating viruses, so they can't target so-called latent HIV, which can hide in cellular reservoirs. Latent HIV can remain hidden in the body for years, before suddenly becoming active and producing HIV. Therefore, to fully eradicate the virus, this needs to be targeted.
Current strategies in development involve a “kick and kill” method. This involves changing the virus from being latent to being active. However, once active, the virus normally heads to cell membranes where it reproduces.
Agents that reverse latency have already been discovered, but the problem faced by scientists is how to effectively kill the virus once it has become activated.
Now, they've found a way to do this, using a newly synthesized compound called L-HIPPO. This prevents the HIV virus from moving to cell membranes and reproducing, leaving it trapped inside infected cells. These cells then die naturally through a process known as “apoptosis”, or cell death, killing the HIV virus in the process. The findings are published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.
This “lock-in and apoptosis” system fills in the gap between the “kick” and “kill” steps of the strategy under development. The finding is particularly exciting because it could lead to total eradication of the HIV virus from the body, something that has never been achieved before.
At the moment, the new approach isn’t available for use, but after some tweaking, the researchers hope it could help to completely remove the disease from the body.
"First, we have to improve upon the drugs that activate the virus and combine them with L-HIPPO to efficiently target the viral reservoir," explained study author Mikako Fujita, from Kumamoto University in Japan, in a statement. "This would be a big step towards a complete recovery from HIV. We believe that our research will help to completely eradicate AIDS."