Examples of media coverage:
- Israeli scientists see breakthrough in AIDS cure – The Times of Israel, November 1, 2016
- Israeli researchers offer some hope for HIV carriers – Arutz Sheva 7, November 1, 2016
- Israeli research successful in identifying possible HIV, AIDS cure – The Jerusalem Post, November 2, 2016
The media articles describe results of a new study that do not appear to have been published, and it’s not clear if they were presented at a conference. The researchers have not responded to emails asking if the results have been published or presented. A previous study describing the approach is available online in the open access journal AIDS Research & Therapy, which charges authors to publish articles and has unusually rapid peer review (all papers have to be reviewed within two weeks):
Specific eradication of HIV-1 from infected cultured cells – Aviad Levin, Zvi Hayouka, Assaf Friedler and Abraham Loyter, AIDS Research and Therapy, August 19, 2010
These stories are based entirely on results obtained in laboratory dish experiments. The researchers have developed peptides (fragments of proteins) that enhance the ability of HIV to integrate its genes into the genome of the cells that it infects. Normally only one or two copies of HIV integrate into a single infected cell, but the peptides are reported to increase this number. In the published study, adding the peptides to cultured HIV-infected cells in a laboratory dish led to an increase in viral replication which was followed, about a week later, by increased death of infected cells due to apoptosis (cellular suicide). The combination of the peptides with a protease inhibitor led to a more rapid onset of the death of HIV-infected cells.
The recent news articles suggest that a similar experiment has now been conducted using cells sampled from HIV-positive individuals instead of the laboratory cell lines employed in the published paper. If the stories are accurate, similar effects were seen, with the approach reducing the number of HIV-infected cells over time in a laboratory dish.
While some of the headlines claim this may be a step toward an HIV cure, this claim is massively premature – it is not yet known if the approach could be used in people, or if there would be a similar effect on the number of HIV-infected cells. Importantly, it’s not clear how the approach would work against the HIV reservoir, which presents the biggest obstacle to curing HIV infection. The HIV reservoir consists of cells containing integrated virus that is latent (inactive) and the peptides appear to work by promoting the integration of viruses that are actively replicating. Thus there is no obvious mechanism by which the combination of the peptides with antiretroviral therapy would affect the latent HIV reservoir in the absence of an additional strategy to try and activate the latent HIV. Furthermore, studies assessing whether the peptides can be safely delivered to any animal, let alone humans, do not appear to have been conducted as yet.
Hopefully the study being reported in these news stories will be published soon, allowing a more thorough assessment of the results.