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HIV-like virus suppressed in monkey experiment

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NEW YORK — Doctors may one day be able to control a patient’s HIV infection in a new way: injecting swarms of germ-fighting antibodies, two new studies suggest.

In monkeys, that strategy sharply reduced blood levels of a cousin of HIV. The results also gave tantalizing hints that someday the tactic might help destroy the AIDS virus in its hiding places in the body, something current drugs cannot do.

This electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows an H9 T cell, colored in blue, infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), yellow.

The study results “could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV” if the approach is found to work in people, said a commentary published Wednesday by the journal Nature along with the monkey studies.

Antibodies are proteins in the blood that grab onto specific germs and mark them for elimination. People infected with HIV naturally make antibodies to fight the AIDS virus, but they are generally ineffective. The two new studies used lab-made versions of rare antibodies with unusual potency against HIV.

One study of rhesus monkeys showed a profound effect from a single injection of antibodies, said lead author Dr. Dan Barouch of Harvard and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The 18 animals had been infected with SHIV, a monkey version of HIV. In 13 animals, blood levels of SHIV became undetectable by standard tests within a week of the treatment. After the antibodies petered out, the virus came back. That happened one to three months after treatment.

In three monkeys with the lowest levels of SHIV before treatment, the virus didn’t return during an observation period of up to eight months. Barouch said the animals were not cured, but the treatment had apparently improved their immune systems enough to keep the virus in check.

The two other monkeys started with the highest blood levels of SHIV. Treatment lowered those levels but not to the point where they were undetectable.

The second study in Nature, from the National Institutes of Health, showed encouraging results in a smaller group of monkeys.

In people, standard drugs routinely tamp down HIV to undetectable levels in the blood. But the antibody approach may someday help doctors attack virus that’s hiding in infected cells, beyond the reach of today’s drugs, said the Nature commentary by Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Louis Picker of the Oregon Health & Science University in Beaverton.

In theory, antibodies might activate the body’s immune system to kill those infected cells, they wrote. Barouch’s results hinted at such an effect, they noted. Virus levels dropped faster in the monkeys than they do when people get standard HIV drugs, and when the monkey virus returned, it generally didn’t reach its pre-treatment levels. Barouch also found virus levels reduced in cells and tissues after treatment.

The findings of the two studies are “provocative” about prospects for attacking HIV’s hiding places, Deeks said in a telephone interview.

“These studies raised more questions than they answered,” he said. “But that’s how science advances.”

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12 more reader comments:

  1. Closer to a cure?

    Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 8:04pm
  2. Still a long way to go.

    Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 8:33pm
  3. How do we fund this type of study???

    Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:03pm
  4. Don’t test on monkeys !!!

    Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 9:53pm
  5. who should they test on William/

    Replied on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 10:07pm
  6. Nothing more than research money, they have the cure for HIV, they can cure newborn's infected with HIV, if that possible they can cure anyone of any age. Money and Greed it's shameful how so many people have died from this disease and all the money collect for HIV research is actually going toward developing and curing other diseases, HIV research is what they are using to collect monies for advanced research for other disease, the cure for HIV has always been available.

    Replied on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 12:22am
  7. Not on animals who involuntarily are forced to suffer and die so that other animals are able to be healthier. Humans are not superior to monkeys so that our needs / wants / rights take precedents .

    Posted on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 10:13pm
  8. Stop testing on monkeys and supporting those who do!

    Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 12:34am
  9. End monkey torture now!

    Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 2:14am
  10. Here comes PETA.

    Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:09am
  11. Then you shouldn’t go to the doctor Gary Bell. How do you think we test things so they don’t kill us?

    Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 3:25am
  12. Would you people rather have a cure for HIV or end “monkey abuse”? jesus christ

    Posted on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 4:36am