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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 17, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 16
New HIV treatment relies on cloned antibodies
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New HIV treatment relies on cloned antibodies

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The first human clinical trial of a new HIV treatment has been successful, according to the international team of scientists that created it.

Their study, published in the journal Nature, says that what are called 'broadly neutralizing antibodies' can suppress viral load in HIV-positive patients. The researchers say the finding may lead to the development of an anti-HIV vaccine.

In the journal, the authors write that 'Our data establish that passive infusion of single broadly neutralizing antibodies can have profound effects on HIV viraemia in humans.'

Research was led by University of Cambridge in London (UCL), the University of Oxford, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Their approach uses clones of antibody proteins taken from one of the rare individuals who has a natural immunity to HIV infection. The research team harvested copies of these antibodies, which were theoretically capable of neutralizing many different strains of HIV.

Patients given the highest concentrations of the antibodies were able to fight off the virus for some time, restricting replication of HIV in their blood.

The strength of this protection varied. In some patients it lasted more than four weeks. But because of the HIV's ability to mutate rapidly, in some patients it was able to outwit the therapy by changing structure over time.

To overcome this problem, the scientists suggested using their new treatment alongside current drugs or together with other antibodies.

'This is different to treatment out there already on two counts,' Prof. Michel Nussenzweig of the Rockefeller University in New York, told BBC News.

'First because it comes from a human - so it is natural in that respect. And secondly it opens up the possibility of giving the patient's own weakened immune system a jolt.

'One part of the antibody could act as a red flag - pointing out to the body where the virus is hiding and sending signals to kill it.'

The team is now exploring whether the infusion could shield people from HIV infection in the first place, but they cautioned that the study was based only on a single individual.

'By measuring the strength of the immune system required to keep this virus under control in this rare individual, we have a better idea of the requirements for successful future treatment,' Prof. Deenan Pillay, of UCL, told the British newspaper The Mail.

'We also managed to identify the specific immune cells that fought the infection. This is a single patient study, but nevertheless it is often the unusual patients who help us to understand the HIV disease process.'

Ravi Gupta of UCL, who co-authored an article in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, said the results were promising - but that a vaccine would likely be more than a decade away.

'Our study shows that the immune system can be as powerful as the most potent combination drug cocktails,' he told The Mail.

'We're still a long way from being able to cure HIV patients, as we still need to develop and test effective vaccines, but this study takes us one step closer by showing us what type of immune responses an effective vaccine should induce.

'If vaccines could mimic what we observed in this patient, we might be able to purge all traces of HIV in the body.'

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