In the past 3 decades HIV has been transformed from a killer disease to more or less a chronic illness which can be controlled with current anti-retroviral therapies. Most patients with HIV can now live long and healthy lives as long as they keep taking their medication regularly to suppress their viral load.
Scientists are constantly looking at ways to improve treatment and care for HIV positive individuals and recently a new study published in the journal Science discussed a new technique of controlling HIV in the form of a type of immunotherapy.
The treatment triggers the immune system to make antibodies against HIV and prevents uninfected cells from getting infected with the HIV virus in the first instance.
The molecule in question, 3BNC117, is a broadly neutralising antibody which means it is active against many different HIV strains and it has already been shown in previous studies to have the potential to greatly reduce the amount of HIV virus in an infected person’s blood, even after just one dose.
The researchers have now reported in a follow up study, having monitored these same patients for a further 6 months period, that in 14 of the 15 patients they were still making new antibodies six month later. In a control group of patients who were not given the antibody there were no significant changes noted which seems to indicate that the antibody works well and enhances the patient’s host immunity against HIV. The researchers postulate that the effect of the antibody might even increase over time.
In addition, having put the figures through a mathematical model it also seems that the drop in virus levels could not just be explained by the antibody keeping new cells from getting infected, so they postulate that the molecule also appears to be targeting already infected cells.
If that was to be the case then it would be a major advance, as it would mean that the molecule could eventually be used to try and reduce the viral reservoir in HIV positive patients, which so far has been the main barrier to a cure.
They will now be following up with further studies to test whether giving several different antibodies together might enhance the effects seen so far.