A new lead to bring an end to AIDS?



Nicolas Chomont and his team were able to demonstrate that the immunotherapy used to treat cancer draws the HIV from its hideouts. 

Could a cancer treatment knock out HIV for good? There is currently no cure for HIV, which can lead to AIDS. Patients are given highly active antiretroviral therapy to extend their lives and control the virus by slowing its progression and decreasing its severity, but the drugs do not eliminate HIV from the body. 

While the treatment regimen is 99.9% successful, Nicolas Chomont, researcher at the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, aims to bump the figure up to 100%. 

HIV is sneaky: it takes cover in certain immune cells and lymphocytes in particular. These hiding places, which are known as reservoirs, help the virus escape the medicines and reactivate the infection when the regimen is interrupted. 

Through a series of experiments, Nicolas Chomont and his team were able to demonstrate that the immunotherapy used to treat cancer draws the HIV from its hideouts. How? By targeting the surface proteins of the HIV reservoirs.

Still, because of the side effects of immunotherapy, the experts remain cautious. For example, in HIV-positive patients who do not have cancer, the treatment boosts their immune system but can also trigger it to turn against itself and destroy its own cells. Immunotherapy must therefore be combined with other molecules to lessen these effects. It is also important to track down the HIV reservoirs. In collaboration with colleagues, Nicolas Chomont has developed a method to analyze tens of millions of cells from a blood sample to determine whether reservoirs are present. The next step is to test the protocol on different patient cohorts.