Tests find immune therapy can curb AIDS

March 8, 2012 1:22 am
  • Wistar Institute immunologist Luis Montaner led the first-ever study to show that patients' immune systems can be boosted to control HIV without standard anti-viral drugs.
    Wistar Institute immunologist Luis Montaner led the first-ever study to show that patients' immune systems can be boosted to control HIV without standard anti-viral drugs.
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For the first time, researchers have shown that they can suppress the AIDS virus by bolstering patients' immune systems, while taking them off standard anti-viral drugs.

The small, six-month-long study, led by scientists at the Wistar Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, put patients on interferon, an old drug with nasty side effects. Interferon by itself had not worked against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in previous studies. The researchers can only speculate about why their protocol -- which initially gave anti-virals and interferon together -- was effective.

Still, the study offers tantalizing evidence that an immune system damaged by HIV can nonetheless be prompted to control the virus on its own -- without the powerful anti-viral drugs that keep the microbe from reproducing.

While anti-virals have transformed HIV infection from a death sentence into a manageable disease, they are costly, must be taken for life and can spur the virus to develop drug resistance.

The new study was "designed to answer the question: Is it possible to control the virus with immune therapy? The answer is yes," said Wistar immunologist Luis Montaner, who presented the results on Wednesday at an international AIDS conference in San Francisco. "There have been a lot of false hypotheses, so people are very jaded. But I firmly believe this gives us hope that one day we can control HIV in the absence of" anti-viral therapy.

Virologist Satish Pillai, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the study, called the findings "really amazing." The implication, he said, is that the body has natural defenses against the virus that are just waiting to be tapped by the right therapy.


First Published 2012-03-07 23:31:40

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