NEW YORK – Doctors may one day be able to control a patient’s HIV infection in a new way: injecting swarms of germ-fighting antibodies, two new studies suggest.
In monkeys, that strategy sharply reduced blood levels of a cousin of HIV. The results also gave tantalizing hints that someday the tactic might help destroy the AIDS virus in its hiding places in the body, something current drugs cannot do.
The study results “could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV” if the approach is found to work in people, said a commentary published by the journal Nature along with the monkey studies.
Antibodies are proteins in the blood that grab onto specific germs and mark them for elimination. People with HIV naturally make antibodies to fight the AIDS virus, but they are generally ineffective. The two new studies used lab-made versions of rare antibodies with unusual potency against HIV.
One study of rhesus monkeys showed a profound effect from a single injection of antibodies, said lead author Dr. Dan Barouch of Harvard and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The 18 animals had been infected with SHIV, a monkey version of HIV. In 13 animals, blood levels of SHIV became undetectable by standard tests within a week. After the antibodies petered out, the virus came back. That happened one to three months after treatment.
In three monkeys with the lowest levels of SHIV before treatment, the virus didn’t return during an observation period of up to eight months. Barouch said the animals were not cured, but the treatment had apparently improved their immune systems enough to keep the virus in check.
The two other monkeys started with the highest SHIV levels. Treatment lowered the levels but not to the point where they were undetectable.
The second study in Nature, from the NIH, showed encouraging results in a smaller group of monkeys.
In people, standard drugs routinely tamp down HIV to undetectable levels. But the antibody approach may someday help doctors attack virus that’s hiding in infected cells, beyond the reach of current drugs, said the Nature commentary by Dr. Steven Deeks of the University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Louis Picker of the Oregon Health & Science University in Beaverton.