HIV-like virus cured in mice
Scientists have used a hormone to completely remove a HIV like virus from mice.
When researchers gave the hormone, called IL-7, to mice it boosted their immune response to the virus. Regular doses of the hormone completely cleared the infection from the mice.
The immune system is not normally able to destroy the HIV virus. This is because the HIV virus replicates within the T cells that are part of the immune system. Every day, HIV destroys billions of CD4+ T cells in a person infected with HIV, eventually overwhelming the immune system's capacity to regenerate or fight other infections.
Patients are faced with incurable, lifelong infections. An estimated 86,500 Britons are living with HIV.
The IL-7 hormone turns off a gene called SOCS-3 which becomes highly active when the body is overrun by infections such as HIV. The gene suppresses the body's immune response to prevent an over-reaction that can damage body tissue. However, in HIV the brakes are put on the immune system too early and the virus is able to persist.
Using the hormone researchers were able to boost the immune system's killer T Cells, which seek out and kill infections, but without causing an over-reaction.
Normal retro-viral drugs given to HIV patients prevent the virus replicating in the main body systems. But there are hidden inactive reserves of the virus which they can't remove. As soon as therapy is stopped these virus stores re-infect the body.
It is thought the new treatment could be used to clear the inactive pockets of the virus as well, completely removing HIV from the body.
Therapies will try to find ways to turn off the SOCS-3 gene for short periods of time to activate killer T cells to fight the viral infection. The technique could be applied to other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B and C and tuberculosis.
Read more about HIV and animal research here.