Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) damages cells in the immune system, and reduces your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.
HIV can be managed by antiretroviral therapy (ART) – medications which stop replication of the virus, allowing the immune system to repair itself.
Although ART makes HIV undetectable and can prevent transmission of the virus, it is still latent in cells, meaning it hasn’t been completely eradicated. It also requires long-term administration, which is costly, and can have side effects.
I recently read an article written by Sophie Cousins, regarding cancer treatments being used for a cure for HIV. It explains research that is being carried out into using immunoboosting therapies used in cancer treatment, to manage HIV.
Similarities between the barriers to a cure to HIV and cancer have been identified, such as the reappearance of malignancies, even whilst undergoing cancer treatments, which resembles the persistence of HIV. Cells infected with HIV proliferate in the same way as tumour cells do, and both show signs of inflammation during this proliferation. Some of the same markers are found in HIV and tumour cells. Markers are substances that are produced in response to or by the virus/disease.
Checkpoint inhibitors are a new type of immunotherapy drug, used for treatment of metastatic melanoma. One of these, called anti-PD-1 is being investigated, in the hope that it works in the same way for HIV, as it does in cancer. It works by blocking a signal, which would have stopped T cells from attacking the cancer. In Melbourne, research is being done to discover whether anti-PD-1 can reverse HIV latency, boost the immune system, and therefore cure HIV.
However, research in San Francisco reveals it may not work for everyone, and anti-PD-1 therapy can have side effects like autoimmune diseases of the skin and gut (when the immune system attacks healthy cells by recognising them as foreign). CAR T cell therapy is also being investigated as a possible HIV treatment. It treats leukaemia, by using genetically modified versions of the patients’ immune cells. It is currently being studied in HIV in animals.