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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 8 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 45
Miracle monkeys - Simian HIV study could 'revolutionize' quest for cure, scientists say
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Miracle monkeys - Simian HIV study could 'revolutionize' quest for cure, scientists say

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The findings of a new study published in the journal Nature could 'revolutionize' the quest for an HIV cure, according to scientists working in the field.

The study, which used rhesus macaque monkeys, would need to be replicated using human patients, but researchers said they were encouraged by the results.

Two groups, from Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), performed the tests and found that some kinds of simian antibodies were able to wipe out immunodeficiency viruses within a matter of days.

Researchers infected the monkeys with what they call SHIV, which is a blend of HIV and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), the equivalent of HIV for monkeys.

The immune system of both humans and monkeys produces precisely targeted antibodies to take out HIV or its simian counterpart, but the virus is able to mutate very rapidly and thus evade the immune assault.

However, the research showed that some kinds of antibodies target the 'conserved' parts of HIV - those that the virus struggles to change because they are vital for it to function.

Data from the Harvard group showed that injection of these antibodies drove SHIV from the monkey's bloodstream until it reached undetectable levels after three to seven days. The effect lasted for one to three months, but in three monkeys the virus did not return to the blood during the entire 250-day study.

'UNPRECEDENTED'
'The effect with these potent antibodies is profound and unprecedented. It's probably as large an antiviral therapeutic effect as has ever been seen,' Harvard Medical School professor Dan Barouch told the BBC. 'But we have to make sure we don't overhype, and the limitation is the study is in animals, not humans.'

The antibodies were also able to attack the virus in some tissues. Antiretroviral drugs can assault the virus in the blood during normal HIV treatment, but the virus can hide in other parts of the body. A recently reported study suggests that it can hide in much larger quantities than previously thought (see SGN, Nov. 1).

The findings raise the prospect of using these newly recognized antibodies to clear dormant or hidden HIV as well. Similar results were produced by the NIAID research team.

Commenting on the findings, UCSF School of Medicine professors Louis Picker and Steven Deeks said, 'The findings of these two papers could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV.'

However, the professors warned that HIV is so prone to mutation that it is 'likely that some people will harbor viruses that are resistant to one or more' of the antibodies.

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