By Fiona Macrae, 4th February 2011:
Scientists may have found a way for the body to cure itself of HIV.
In a series of tantalising experiments, they were able to harness the immune system to such an extent that it defeated the virus and completely removed it from the body.
While there have been advances in treating the condition, the virus’s remarkable ability to outwit the immune system means that the recipe for a cure has so far eluded even the world’s best scientists.
Dr Marc (CORR) Pellegrini, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute said: ‘Viruses such as HIV and hepatitis B and C overwhelm the immune system, leading to establishment of chronic infections that are lifelong and incurable.
‘Despite tremendous efforts, long-lived immune responses for some of these viruses are ineffective, because the body is so overrun by virus that the immune system just give up trying to battle the infection.
‘Some people have coined the phrase “immune exhaustion” to explain the phenomenon.
The breakthrough centres on a gene called SOCS-3.
When faced with an overwhelming infection such as HIV, the gene becomes highly active and slams the brakes on the immune response, allowing the virus to persist.
When the researchers boosted levels of a hormone called IL-7, the gene ‘switched off’ and mice were able to gradually remove HIV from their bodies, the journal Cell reports. Read more>>