The Charlie Sheen confession on The Today Show has brought HIV/AIDS back into the news — and in a very flamboyant way.
But beyond the Hollywood hype and the salacious aspects of Sheen’s personal story, the announcement has left a lot of people scratching their heads, thinking “Are we any closer to a cure for HIV/AIDS?”
In point of fact, HIV research has revealed much, but what remains to be developed is a way to tackle the reservoirs of virus that in many patients lay dormant, only to resurface in the body years later.
A new study, however, has scientists hoping anew.
“A team led by two bio-pharmaceutical companies found engineered molecules can target and bring together HIV-infected cells, and T-cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a central role in the immune system’s response,” reports the UK’s Daily Mail. “By doing so, the molecules can induce the killing of HIV-infected cells, and were found to further reduce the levels of detectable virus in the blood samples of HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral therapy.”
It’s nicknamed the “kick and kill strategy” — a way to eliminate HIV that involves making infected cells visible to the immune system, before the T-cells can kill off the virus.
Researchers led by Scott Koenig from MacroGenics and Thomas Cihlar from Gilead Sciences have designed and evaluated so-called Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) molecules.
“The molecules have two arms,” explains the Daily Mail. “The first binds specifically to a protein in HIV-infected cells, Env, while the second to CD3, a molecule found on T-cells. Rather than target specific T-cells, the DART CD3-binding arm can potentially recruit and activate any kind of killer T-cells, thereby mounting a much broader attack on the HIV-infected cells, expressing the Env protein.”
The upshot? Perhaps DART molecules could indeed kill reservoir cells.
“Ultimate proof of reservoir reduction would have to be obtained by in vivo testing of DART molecules,” the researchers acknowledged.