Montreal researchers stimulate human immune cells to fight HIV
Montreal researchers have succeeded in reviving "exhausted" human immune cells, enabling them to fight the AIDS virus. Human immune cells enter a dormant state when infected with HIV.
Montreal researchers have succeeded in reviving "exhausted" human immune cells, enabling them to fight the AIDS virus. Human immune cells enter a dormant state when infected with HIV. This research represents the first time that human cells have been wakened from their slumber, allowing them to resume their essential work of fighting infection. The research is published in this week's issue of Nature Medicine. Authors of this study are affiliated with the Université de Montréal, the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) Research Centre, the Montreal Inserm Unit, McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).
"For the first time, we have been able to identify a flaw in the immune response to HIV," says Dr. Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, lead author of the study. "But even better, we have found a way to correct it." Dr. Sékaly is professor of immunology at the Université de Montréal, researcher at the CHUM Research Centre, director of the Inserm Unit in Montreal, and adjunct professor at McGill University.
When the human body is overrun by disease the immune system can become suppressed. "This reaction to invasion may seem illogical, but if the body does not take 'time out' it will 'burn out,'" says one of the study's co-authors, Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, a physician in the Division of Hematology and Immunodeficiency at the MUHC and an associate professor of medicine at McGill University. "We can actually 'kill' ourselves by fighting too much." This is not just the case with AIDS, but also with other diseases like tuberculosis and cancer.
Our immune system's "nap time" is triggered by the overexpression of a protein called PD-1. By shutting down the expression of PD-1, Dr. Sékaly and his team were able to revive human cells in the laboratory. "The human cells began fighting HIV again," says Dr. Sékaly. "We documented increases in the cells' ability to survive HIV, fight HIV, and even multiply; this is the first time we have seen human cells fight back."
"It is important to keep this work in perspective, however," says Dr. Routy. "This is the first time we have managed to get human cells to fight HIV, but we now need to take this laboratory achievement and repeat it in the human body." Discussions have already begun to build on these results in a clinical trial, which could begin as early as next year.
The findings were simultaneously reproduced by two other laboratories — the labs headed by Dr. Bruce Walker at Harvard and Dr. Richard Koup at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). "It is a rare occurrence for three teams to work together on attacking a major problem. Up until now, the virus has been more or less invincible. By combining our efforts, we found the missing link that may enable us to defeat the virus," noted Dr. Sékaly.
This research was funded by Genome Canada, Génome Québec, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Réseau Sida et Maladies infectieuses of the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.
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