For people living with HIV, the widespread antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help slow the spread of the disease and prevent it from developing into AIDS. However, ART is not effective against all strains of the disease, nor is it a cure for the virus, which still affects 37 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Several Israeli universities and scientific institutes have recently made strides towards new, more effective treatments and a possible cure for HIV/AIDS. In recognition of World AIDS Day 2015, NoCamels spotlights some of their most groundbreaking research.
Hebrew University: Destroying HIV-positive cells
Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a new method to destroy HIV-positive cells without damaging the healthy ones. When the HIV virus attacks, it inserts a portion of its DNA into the genome of the healthy cell through an enzyme called integrase. However, research led by Prof. Abraham Loyter and Prof. Assaf Friedler has discovered that certain peptides (amino acids) can interfere in this DNA-transfer process, and ultimately cause the infected cell to self-destroy.
The procedure was tested on cultures of human cells infected with HIV-1, the most common form of the virus, and within two weeks, those cells were destroyed. The study is still in progress; the researchers have signed a partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, as well as with the Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Yissum, in order to find investors and continue with clinical trials.
Weizmann Institute of Science: Antibodies could neutralize the virus
At the Weizmann Institute of Science, research led by Dr. Ron Diskin has shown that rare antibodies may be able to neutralize the virus. Antibodies are proteins produced by blood plasma cells that help the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
Only 10-20 percent of people naturally produce HIV-fighting antibodies, with which Diskin is experimenting. If such antibodies could be reproduced, they could one day be used both in treatment (thereby replacing conventional ART) and in a potential vaccine. “Antibody-based treatments for other diseases, primarily cancer, are already in use,” Diskin said in a statement.
Although it is still unclear how effective HIV antibodies are on a wider population, the path of investigation seems promising.