hivHIV is nothing new to the medical community. Most people, at least in America, probably even know at least one person who is infected. In fact, your neighbor or co-worker, or even a relative, might be infected and you don’t even know it. After all, nobody really walks around broadcasting their HIV status.
But for as long as the condition has been around—or, at least, for as long as we have known of it—not much progress has been made in terms of treating it.
Until now.

It has taken many years of research and development to finally get to a point that we can, at least, control HIV. Indeed, current antiretroviral treatments can, most of the time, successfully suppress the replication of HIV in the blood. But these treatments do not “cure” HIV as the virus remains in the system; if a patient stops taking the medication, there will be no suppression and the virus could begin replicating again.

However, we may be on the verge of fully treating it very soon. A new study investigates the effect HIV has on the immune system and, particularly, a cell in the immune system, known as CD8+ Killer T-cells. These cells respond to HIV like a normal infection but, over time, apparently can grow weaker and weaker.

“A preponderance of emerging evidence indicates that the functions of the HIV-specific CD8+ Killer T cells are severely compromised and enters a state of ‘exhaustion,’ rendering the cells less effective at eliminating HIV infected cells” explains lead study author Glen Chew, who is a PhD candidate in immunology at John A. Burns School of Medicine, Hawai’i Center for AIDS (JABSOM).

In this study, the researchers found that one expansion of the CD8+ T cells expression is actually associated with clinical markers for the progression of the HIV disease. Transferring this understanding to the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus model (which is very similar to HIV) they found this pathway is active during infection.

“These results appear to indicate that a large fraction of HIV and SIV specific CD8+ T cells are vulnerable to negative regulation through these two pathways” describes team leader Lishomwa Ndhlovu, who is an associate professor at the, University of Hawai’i Department of Tropical Medicine and JABSOM Hawaiʻi Center for AIDS.

The conclusion, then, is that by interfering with these pathways, scientists may be able to rejuvenate those HIV affected cells which could help to actually clear the infection instead of just suppress it.

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