National Institutes of Health Grants $7.7 Million for HIV Research

New research may overcome hurdles to eliminating viral reservoirs that prevent curing HIV.

Developing a cure for HIV has been complicated for multiple reasons, the most prominent being viral reservoirs. When patients adhere to antiretroviral therapy, the virus goes through a period of latency, but can re-emerge from these hidden reservoirs in cases of drug-resistance or non-adherence.

Countless studies have been dedicated to understanding how and why HIV does this, according to a press release from UCLA.

“It’s the resurrection of virus that you couldn’t see in the body before,” Jerome Zack, director, UCLA Center for AIDS Research, said in the release.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently granted Dr Zack and his team a $7.7 million grant to fund 3 projects that address HIV viral reservoirs, according to the release.

The projects will determine factors that contribute to both suppression and re-emergence of HIV. Additionally, the studies will investigate whether a strengthened immune system—either by genetic modification or vaccine—could control HIV rebound.

The researchers will use mice to determine how the virus develops and how it affects the body, according to the release.

“You cannot infect mice with HIV,” Dr Zack said. “The only animals that can be infected with HIV are humans and related species including chimpanzees and gorillas, and we’re not using these as models. But if you take a mouse that doesn’t have its own immune system, you can transplant elements of the human immune system into the mice, they will engraft, and then you can infect those human components with HIV.”

Dr Zack said that scientists have used this type of model to study HIV for nearly 3 decades.

“We’ve optimized these models so we can now test rebound, which is probably the key thing that is forcing people to remain on HIV drugs, known as antiretroviral therapy, for life,” Dr Zack said in the release.

The overall goal of the new studies is to create a way for HIV-positive patients to discontinue treatment without the risk of viral rebound, thus creating the HIV cure that has eluded researchers so far.

The team has already seen promising results, according to the release. They previously published results from a study about a “kick and kill” method that activates dormant HIV so the immune system or the virus kills the cell.

Related Coverage: 'Kick and Kill' Technique Targets Dormant HIV Cells

If proven effective in humans, antiretroviral therapy may no longer be necessary, according to the release.