2022-07-28| Technology

HIV Latent Cells Could Lead to Possible Cure

by Max Heirich
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On July 27, scientists with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center (VRC) announced at AIDS 2022, the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, that they have found new insights which could lead to a potential cure for HIV. 

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Cutting-Edge Technology Reveals New Insights

Technology limitations have made it difficult for researchers to gain an enhanced understanding of HIV-infected, memory CD4+ T cells. These are T cells that help coordinate the body’s immune response. However, HIV interrupts that function, which destroys the cells. The infected cells can linger for decades in an individual. Due to the limitations of technology, scientists have been unable to get a clear picture of what, if any, distinct attributes they might have. If found, an HIV-cure-directed therapy could exploit these attributes.

However, at the conference, Eli Boritz, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Virus Persistence and Dynamics Section in the VRC Laboratory of Immunology, conducted a presentation wherein he revealed new technology that could show apparent differences between HIV-infected CD4+ T cells and uninfected cells. As a result of a collaboration between NIAID and a bioengineering group at the University of California, Sacramento, researchers have developed a new microfluidic sorting technology.

This new advancement allows scientists to define gene expression patterns by dubbed Focused Interrogation of Cells by Nucleic Acid Detection and Sequencing (FIND-Seq). This works by segregating cells into millions of different single-cell containers. Then, scientists perform messenger RNA capture and virus DNA detection sequentially.

After applying FIND-Seq to the blood cells of six HIV-infected individuals, scientists compared the gene expressions of infected CD4+ T cells to uninfected cells of the same type in the same individual. The scientists found a distinct difference in the gene expressions between the infected and uninfected cells. The infected population might be susceptible to therapies targeting their gene expression.

As outlined in a release summarizing the presentation, the results of FIND-Seq have renewed scientific interest in developing targeted therapies that could induce the death of HIV-infected cells. With this new method of examining the gene expression of these cells, researchers can now think ahead to what might be the next step in HIV cure research. 

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