It seems like the new amazing progress that is happening with cancer treatment via boosting the immune system, may potentially provide steps for the battle against HIV. considering that the body’s immune system has a hard time clearing the body of cancer and HIV in normal circumstances, this is amazing news. Immunotherapy has proven to completely destroy cancer cells in certain cases of terminally ill patients.
The new hope is now that the same approach to immunotherapy might also help patients with HIV. However, not all experts are convinced this is quite so simple.
When fighting HIV, the treatment must be administered daily to destroy any active virus left in the body, otherwise, the virus can completely destroy the immune system which then causes AIDS. However, we still do not have a complete cure for this virus as the immune system simply cannot detect the dormant HIV that hides in the cells.
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of HIV said: “One of the mechanisms why [latently infected cells] persist is the fact they are proliferating very similar to tumour cells. Those cells are expressing molecules that are the same molecules that are expressed on tumour cells. So that raises the question whether we could develop a strategy for HIV-cure similar to the novel treatment in the field of cancer.”
The director of the Doherty Institute in Australia, Prof Sharon Lewin agrees: “There are a lot of parallels… I think it’s huge.”
However, there is still little to no evidence that this new direction would actually provide a solid outcome as only around 50 patients that suffer from HIV have actually been given the cancer therapy. There have been starting tests in the laboratory with the hypothesis that the immunotherapy drugs could revive the tired immune system.
Prof Lewin commented on this: “The parts of the immune system that recognise HIV are often exhausted T-cells, they express immune checkpoint markers. In the laboratory, if you then put those cells in with an immune checkpoint blocker, the T-cells do regain function.”
However, scientist highlight that the cancer and HIV are vastly different and that patients should not get their hopes up just yet.