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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 6 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 49
Possible radiation cure for HIV
Section One
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Possible radiation cure for HIV

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Researchers have successfully used radiation to destroy so-called 'dormant' HIV cells in blood samples from patients treated with standard antiretroviral drugs, according to a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America on December 3.

The technique, called radioimmunotherapy (RIT), is similar to procedures already used to treat cancer. Cloned cells called 'monoclonal antibodies' are paired with radioactive isotopes. The antibodies are then injected into the patient's bloodstream, travel to the targeted HIV cell, and deliver their radiation, killing the virus.

'In RIT, the antibodies bind to the infected cells and kill them by radiation,' lead researcher Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova said. 'When HAART and RIT are used together, they kill the virus and the infected cells, respectively.'

Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has transformed the outlook for patients infected with HIV by suppressing the replication of the virus in the body. Nevertheless, in spite of the success of HAART in effectively controlling HIV, scientists have found reservoirs of dormant HIV persisting in their patients' bodies, thus ruling out a permanent cure.

'In an HIV patient on HAART, drugs suppress viral replication, which means they keep the number of viral particles in a patient's bloodstream very low. However, HAART cannot kill the HIV-infected cells,' Dadachova said. 'Any strategy for curing HIV infection must include a method to eliminate viral-infected cells.'

Dadachova is a professor of radiology, microbiology, and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York. In her study, her team of researchers administered RIT to blood samples from 15 HIV patients treated with HAART at the Einstein-Montefiore Center for AIDS Research.

For the study, Dr. Dadachova's team paired a monoclonal antibody designed to target a protein expressed on the surface of HIV-infected cells with the radionuclide Bismuth-213.

The researchers found that RIT was able to kill HIV-infected lymphocytes previously treated with HAART, reducing the HIV infection in the blood samples to undetectable levels.

'The elimination of HIV-infected cells with RIT was profound and specific,' Dadachova said. 'The radionuclide we used delivered radiation only to HIV-infected cells without damaging nearby cells.'

The study also tested the ability of the radioactive antibody to reach HIV-infected cells in the brain and central nervous system. Using an in vitro human blood brain barrier model, the researchers demonstrated that their monoclonal antibodies could cross the blood-brain barrier and kill HIV-infected cells without any overt damage to the barrier itself.

'Antiretroviral treatment only partially penetrates the blood brain barrier, which means that even if a patient is free of HIV systemically, the virus is still able to rage on in the brain, causing cognitive disorders and mental decline,' Dadachova said. 'Our study showed that RIT is able to kill HIV-infected cells both systemically and within the central nervous system.'

According to Dadachova, clinical trials in HIV patients are the next step for the RIT treatment.

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