26 Jun 2009

By Gatonye Gathura, Citizen Correspondent, Nairobi

Scientists have found a way of eradicating HIV infection from the human body by "smoking" out the virus from its hideout cells. The new approach is to kill the hideout cells plus the virus.

The current anti-Aids drugs only destroy viruses circulating in the body but some manage to hide in particular immune system cells and continue replicating, hence the patient has to remain on medication throughout.

The new development by a team of American and Canadian researchers is the second indication that a cure for the disease that continues to afflict more than 1.3 million Kenyans and many more globally may finally be within reach.

In February, researchers in California developed a gene therapy with the capacity of eradicate HIV from the body and have since put 12 people on clinical trials. The study is still ongoing though it is said to involve a complex process that could make it very expensive.

Published on Sunday in the Nature Medicine journal, the new study says HIV and Aids can be treated through a combination of targeted drugs together with current anti-retrovirals.

"This radical new therapy would make it possible to destroy both the viruses circulating in the body as well as those playing hide-and-seek in immune system cells, says Dr Rafick-Pierre S�kaly, of the University of Montreal, Canada.

Other participating groups included the universities of McGill and Minnesota and the National Institutes of Health, the latter is the US federal agency responsible for overseeing government-sponsored biomedical research.

Current anti-retroviral treatments are not able to eradicate the virus from the body because some disease agents hide in particular cells where the existing treatments cannot reach. These researchers have now identified these cells and found a way of reaching them.

The new approach, says the team, is to use drugs to kill the cell containing the virus while giving the immune system time to regenerate with new cells. This could much cheaper that the gene-therapy technology.

"Once the virus is hidden in these reservoir cells, it becomes dependent on them: if the cell lives, the virus lives, but if the cell dies, so does the virus. As such, destroying these immune cells will allow for the elimination of the resilient or hidden parts of the virus," says Dr Sekaly.

While the team acknowledges that a product is still several years away before becoming a reality for patients, they are excited of the breakthrough which they say opens the way for therapies that are completely different from current ones.

SOURCE: The Citizen


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