Scientists Report a Potential “Swiss Army Knife” Immunotherapy for HIV

A new development in HIV research was just reported this week at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Scientists published in EBioMedicine the development of an all-in-one immunotherapy that will “kick” HIV out of hiding in the immune system and “kill” it. They are calling it the ‘Swiss Army Knife” of immunotherapies.

No clinical trials have been done, but this discovery could lead to a vaccine that would allow individuals living with HIV to stop taking daily medications.


Dr. Robbie Mailliard, senior author of the report and the assistant professor of infectious diseases and microbiology says:

A lot of scientists are trying to develop a cure for HIV, and it’s usually built around the ‘kick and kill’ concept – kick the virus out of hiding and then kill it. There are some promising therapies being developed for the kill, but the Holy Grail is figuring out which cells are harboring HIV so we know what to kick.

Mailliard and his team studied a different virus that infects more than half of adults and 95% of those with HIV. This is called Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and it causes eye infections and other serious illness, but is controlled by a healthy immune system.

Dr. Charles Rinaldo, co-author of the study and professor of the Pitt Public Health Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology said:


The immune system spends a lot of time keeping CMV in check; in some people, 1 one out of every 5 T cells are specific to that one virus. That got us thinking – maybe those cells that are specific to fighting CMV also make up a large part of the latent HIV reservoir. So we engineered our immunotherapy to not only target HIV, but to also activate CMV-specific T helper cells.

In the study, immune cells called dendritic cells were isolated, which are considered the ‘quarterbacks of the immune system’, telling immune cells what to fight against.

Dendritic cells are key players in cancer immunotherapies and had yet to be exploited into ‘kicking’ or pulling the latent HIV out of the body. Using this concept, the team of scientists engineered “antigen-presenting type 1-polarized, monocyte-derived dendritic cells” (MDC1) which were to seek out and activate the CMV-specific cells and make them think they also had latent HIV.

Mailliard added:


Without adding any other drug or therapy, MDC1 were then able to recruit killer T cells to eliminate the virally infected cells. With just MDC1, we achieved both kick and kill – it’s like the Swiss Army knife of immunotherapies. To our knowledge, this is the first study to program dendritic cells to incorporate CMV to get the kick, and also to get the kill.

This is just one theory and approach for immunotherapy that has yet to be tested on humans. The team is seeking funding to being clinical trials to test MDC1 in humans.

Just last month, new cases of patients who were found to be free of HIV after undergoing stem cell transplants via bone marrow transplants were reported.

While there could be many hurdles ahead in HIV/AIDS research, these new developments show the hard work that is being put into ending this virus.



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