The Maraba virus was observed to kill latently infected HIV cells.
The Maraba virus (MG1) has demonstrated the ability to kill HIV-infected cells that current antiretroviral therapies (ART) cannot target, according to research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Although HIV drugs drastically reduce the viral load and effectively eliminate the risk of transmission, there is no way to completely eradicate the virus from the body. In most cases, if a patient with HIV stops treatment with ART, their viral load booms.
Targeting latent HIV-infected cells has proven difficult because they appear to be no different than uninfected cells, according to the authors.
In the study, the authors targeted dormant HIV-infected cells with the MG1 virus, which is known to attack cancer cells that have defects in their interferon pathway that make cells more susceptible to viruses. The team of researchers previously discovered that HIV-infected cells have defects in the pathway.
"We thought that because latently HIV-infected cells had similar characteristics to cancer cells, that the virus would enter and destroy them," said senior researcher Jonathan Angel, MD, FRCPC. "It turns out we were right."
Using laboratory models of dormant HIV-infected cells, the authors discovered that MG1 was able to target and destroy infected cells, according to the study. Importantly, healthy cells were left untouched by the virus.
Although most lately infected cells are centralized to the lymph nodes and organs, the authors said that some cells populate the blood.
When MG1 was added to blood cells taken from HIV-positive patients, HIV DNA dropped, which indicates that the cells had been killed, according to the study. If proven in additional clinical trials, targeting HIV-infected cells with MG1 may result in a cure, according to the authors.
The researchers plan to continue studying the potential of MG1 in animal models of HIV and human patients with HIV, according to the study.
"We know that the Maraba virus is targeting and killing the latently HIV-infected cells, but we don't know exactly how it's doing this," Dr Angel said. "We think the virus is able to target the cells because of an impaired interferon pathway, but we need to do more research to know for sure."