One of the key challenges in researching treatments for HIV is that the mechanisms that allow for the viruses to be undetected by natural defences are unknown. Now, a recently published study claims to have found the ‘invisibility cloak’ that may enable this process. Here we consider the implications of the findings. The report is contained here.
The study, which was recently published in Nature, was designed to study HIV infected cells at a molecular level. Once the researchers had established two molecules they believed to play a part in hiding the virus from a patient’s immune system, they verified their findings by using an experimental drug to see whether it could reverse this effect. In other words, once the researchers found what they believed to be the key mechanisms for the so-called ‘cloaking effect’ they considered whether there were ways to create an ‘uncloaking effect’. Based on clinical experience and past research, the researchers utilised an experimental drug that was a modified version of the so-called cyclosporine known for its ability to affect the immune response. The key findings indicated that the experimental drug ‘uncloaked’ the virus, which consequently led to an immune response that prevented the virus from replicating in cells. Based on this the researchers urged for more research to consider how to target the role of the two molecules believed to play a role in the ‘cloaking effect’.
This research is very exciting and raised many points worth discussing.
One question that may have seemed expected was the reasoning for not using Cyclosproine in current treatments of HIV. However, the reasoning for this is rather obvious once past research and clinical knowledge of Cyclosporine is considered. It is known that the use of Cyclosporine is well established when it comes to transplant patients (as it is believed to help prevent organ rejection). In addition to that, some studies have suggested that this treatment has blocked the replication of the HIV virus on a molecular level. Despite this, the treatment has not been seen as suitable for clinical use in HIV patients as it has negative effects on the immune system.
Similarly, although developing a treatment to create ‘uncloaking’ is needed, it is worth considering how that would fit in with a late diagnosis of HIV. Given that late diagnoses are so common in this patient population it would be worth asking whether ‘uncloaking’ is suitable at all stages of HIV.
Nevertheless, developments in this field of research are worth monitoring. Although the current study cannot answer all the questions, it still has provided results from robust research. Perhaps most importantly, it has provided an additional way of thinking when it comes to the development and treatment of HIV. That in itself is no small feat. Further details can be read here.