Grant to Examine Natural Immune Response Against HIV

The $2 million grant seeks to help establish guidelines for further development of treatments for HIV.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded a $2 million grant to a George Washington University researcher to study the natural immune response to HIV-infected cells.

More than 1.1 million individuals in the United States are living with HIV, and 1 of 7 are unaware of their status.

Antiretrovirals have transformed HIV from what was once a death sentence to a chronic disease, but a cure for the infection remains elusive.

A primary obstacle in developing an HIV cure is the virus’ ability to hide in reservoir pools to evade antiretroviral therapy (ART) and the immune system response.

Senior author Brad Jones, PhD, assistant professor at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will study the body’s natural defenses against HIV and seek out ways to eliminate these latent HIV-infected cells.

“We are really trying to harness people’s own natural immune responses against the HIV virus,” Dr Jones said in a press release.

The new study relies on real white blood cells derived from HIV-positive patients receiving combination therapy, contrasting prior studies that used artificial models of HIV latency.

Specifically, the study will examine killer T cells because of their function to kill HIV-infected cells. Prior studies have shown that killer T cells in different people have varying strengths, which explains why some patients respond to therapies better than others.

“We are trying to find out how to give the body’s immune response a boost and an edge so that these killer T cells can do what they do best and kill these virus-infected cells,” Dr Jones said in the release.

The team of scientists will compare different killer T cell samples to identify which are more successful in eliminating HIV reservoirs.

“The results can provide guidance on how to develop better vaccines and immunotherapies pointing toward the ultimate goal of curing HIV,” the release stated.

Once the 5-year study is completed, the investigators plan to use the results to provide guidance for clinical trials and the development of therapeutic strategies.