Could CAR-T Therapy Actually Cure HIV?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has beleaguered millions of people who’ve been infected with it since acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was initially described during the 1980s. Although much progress has been made against HIV and AIDS, there still is no true cure to date. Dr. Santiago Perez wonders whether CAR-T therapy could at last provide a cure.
The Challenge of Curing HIV/AIDs
HIV has proven impossible to cure thus far because it’s a retrovirus. It doesn’t just replicate in the body like standard viruses do, but also can insert its genetic code into infected cells’ DNA.
Traditional antiviral treatments aren’t able to eradicate HIV from the body, because they’re primarily designed to attack genetic material outside of DNA. Antivirals generally aren’t capable of splicing infectious code out of DNA — but CAR-T therapy can splice DNA.
CAR-T Therapy Might Treat HIV
CAR-T therapy is a specific type of immune therapy that’s currently used to treat leukemia and some other cancers.
Outside of the patient, CAR-T therapy utilizes genetic engineering to reprogram lymphocytes so that they’re able to fight a particular molecule. These modified lymphocytes are then inserted into the patient, so they can fight cells that have the target molecule.
The method has proven effective with leukemia and other cancers, and is already being used clinically. The same method could theoretically, at least, fight cells that are infected with HIV.
Dr. Santiago Perez has noted that researchers are currently looking for biomarkers that HIV has, which would serve as the molecules that the lymphocytes are modified to attack. The lymphocytes used to fight leukemia won’t fight HIV because leukemia has different molecular biomarkers. HIV-specific ones must be identified before research on the therapy and HIV can proceed further.
CAR-T Therapy Offers Hope at Last
The best HIV treatments thus far have been more mitigation efforts than treatments themselves.
Social changes have had the greatest effect, greatly reducing the number of people who become HIV positive. Sexual education has curbed transmission in most developed countries, and contraception and education are making progress in developing countries too.
Despite social efforts, however, HIV still ravages populations. Approximately 37.7 million people worldwide are infected with the virus, and most will suffer from AIDs if they don’t already.
The most effective treatment for infection in the body is antiretroviral drugs. These drugs are only able to suppress virus replication, though, and can’t actually eradicate the virus from the body. While they provide substantial and lasting relief, they’ll never completely cure someone of HIV.
CAR-T therapy’s promise is entirely different from what social changes and antiretroviral viruses offer. If researchers are successful the therapy could at long last provide hope for a cure.
Dr. Santiago Perez Explains CAR-T Therapy as Potential HIV Treatment
Dr. Santiago Perez recently explained how CAR-T therapy may prove to be a cure for HIV, and he discussed the current state and future of the field’s studies. Dr. Perez is currently an infectious disease researcher and clinician with the Facult y of Health Sciences at Queens. He’s previously worked on HIV immunology in France and Mexico.