Study Seeks to Eradicate HIV with Natural Killer Cells

"If successful, this has the potential to contribute to a cure for HIV."

Tri-specific killer engagers (TriKE) are being used to target cells infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), in preclinical testing by a collaborative research team at the University of Minnesota.

Led by Jeffrey Miller, MD, Deputy Director of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and Timothy Schacker, MD, Vice Dean of Research at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Director of the Program In HIV Medicine, the research team is investigating the potential to use a cancer-based therapy on HIV.

Miller’s team has previously worked with natural killer (NK) cells to target cancer, while Schaker’s group of researchers was investigating HIV reservoirs.

The TriKE, designed and developed at the University of Minnesota, aimed to bind NK cells, on 1 end, to target cancer cells on the other end, along with costimulation by an IL-15 cytokine linker contained between the 2 binding domains in the same protein. The IL-15, in this case, will be combined with CD4 T cells to potentially eliminate the HIV reservoir.

"The goal in this research is to eliminate the T cells, where HIV hides out in the body," said Schacker, in a prepared statement. "If successful, this has the potential to contribute to a cure for HIV."

The next steps for the research group will be to optimize the TriKE constructs, followed by testing in vitro, and then in vivo, according to the Masonic Cancer Center. If that phase is successful, clinical trials are expected to follow.


University of Minnesota research team works to eradicate HIV with natural killer cells [news release]. Minneapolis, MN; April 29, 2019: Masonic Cancer Center. Accessed April 2019.

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