The Epidemic

Lurking HIV

Unique protein that gives away the presence of inactive HIV detected.

BY VICTOR MELAMED

Sniffing out hidden caches of the HIV virus is something researchers have been trying to do for decades. Now that we have a lead, the finding could speed up research on a cure, reports Science Alert.

Thanks to modern antiretroviral therapies, for many people, HIV is not the death sentence it once was. But we still don’t have a reliable way of permanently flushing it out of someone’s system.

Drugs can keep the virus in check, but unfortunately HIV has a major weapon—it stows away in secret reservoirs in the immune system. There it lies dormant until conditions are more suitable to re-emerge.

That’s why people infected with HIV have to spend a lifetime on expensive drugs, because the virus can take only weeks to come back from its latent state if drug treatment is stopped.

Those nasty secret reservoirs HIV creates are located in long-lived immune cells known as resting T cells. Because the virus hijacks these cells and integrates its genetic material into the DNA of the patient, it makes reservoir T cells extremely hard to track down.

Now a team of French scientists has managed to achieve this important milestone in HIV research by discovering a biomarker that exists only on the surface of T cells that harbor the latent virus.

Tony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, told Nature that a good next step would be to replicate the findings in more blood samples from a larger variety of patients who have the virus. n

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