Radioimmunotherapy, in which cells are irradiated in a treatment similar to those used to fight cancer, could potentially be used to rid the body of the HIV virus, according to new research publicized by New York’s Yeshiva University this week.
Typically, those suffering from AIDS, the incurable disease caused by the HIV virus, are treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), a cocktail of drugs that “keeps the virus from multiplying by killing the virus in the bloodstream” but doesn’t flush out HIV because it can’t “completely eliminate the HIV-infected cells in which the virus can replicate,” YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine said in a press release Tuesday.
But by using radioimmunotherapy (RIT), a team from the Albert Einstein College was able to “reduce HIV infection to undetectable levels” in the majority of blood samples taken from HIV patients who were being treated with antiretroviral therapy.
The treatment also offers possibilities to completely remove HIV from the body by potentially solving one of the main problems with anti-retroviral therapy treatments, which “do not efficiently penetrate the blood-brain barrier, a system of blood vessels that stops harmful substances from crossing into the brain,” the university said, meaning that despite the drug treatment, the HIV virus can linger in the brain and central nervous system cells.
“We found that radioimmunotherapy could kill HIV-infected cells both in blood samples that received antiretroviral treatment and within the central nervous system, demonstrating RIT offers real potential for being developed into an HIV cure,” said team leader Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova.
“There have been major strides in HIV treatment that slow disease progression, but we’re still searching for a permanent cure,” Dadachova said. “To combat HIV, we need a method that will completely eliminate all HIV-infected cells without damaging non-infected cells,” something the new radiation treatment could potentially provide.
Since it was first recognized in the early 1980s, some 36 million have died from AIDS-related complications, and over 33 million people world-wide are currently infected by the HIV virus, which is typically spread through unprotected sexual contact.