Artificial receptors kill cells infected with the virus that causes AIDS, study finds

July 15, 2016 by Enrique Rivero
Researchers find that potent antibodies can be used to generate a specific type of cell that can be used to kill cells infected with HIV-1. An HIV-infected T cell is shown here. Credit: NIAID/Flick

A type of immunotherapy that has shown promising results against cancer could also be used against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In a study published July 11 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Virology, researchers from the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research found that recently discovered potent can be used to generate a specific type of cell called chimeric antigen , or CARs, that can be used to kill cells infected with HIV-1.

CARs are artificially created immune T cells that have been engineered to produce receptors on their surface that are designed to target and kill specific cells containing viruses or tumor proteins. Chimeric receptors are the focus of ongoing research into how gene immunotherapy can be used to fight cancer. But they could also be used to create a strong immune response against HIV, said Dr. Otto Yang, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study's corresponding author.

Although the human body's immune system does initially respond to and attack HIV, the sheer onslaught of the virus—its ability to hide in different T cells and to rapidly replicate—eventually wears out and destroys the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to a host of infections and diseases. Researchers have been looking for ways to strengthen the against HIV, and it now appears CARs could be a weapon in that fight.

"We took new generation antibodies and engineered them as artificial T-cell receptors, to reprogram killer T cells to kill HIV-infected cells," said Yang, who is also director of vaccine and pathogenesis research at the AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research. "Others have used antibodies against cancer antigens to make artificial T-cell receptors against cancer and shown this to be helpful in cancer treatment." UCLA is the first to design this strategy for HIV.

While the receptors approach has been in use for almost 10 years to fight cancer, this is the first attempt to use the technique to treat HIV since 15 years ago, when experiments proved unsuccessful. The new research differs because it takes advantage of new antibodies that have been discovered in the past few years. In the previous trials, researchers had used an early type that was not antibody-based. That approach, however, was abandoned because it was clinically ineffective.

Here the researchers used seven recently discovered "broadly neutralizing antibodies" that have the ability to bind multiple strains of invading viruses, unlike earlier isolated antibodies that tend to bind few strains. These antibodies were re-engineered as artificial CAR-T cell receptors to have activity against broad strains of HIV. In lab tests, the researchers found that all seven had varying degrees of ability to direct killer T cells to proliferate, kill and suppress viral replication in response to HIV-infected .

Yang notes that "what works in a test tube doesn't necessarily work in a person," so the next step is to find strategies to put these receptors into humans. But this therapy shows enough promise to move forward with further research.

Explore further: Engineering the immune system to kill cancer cells

More information: Pablo Garcia-Miranda et al. Stability of HIV Frameshift Site RNA Correlates with Frameshift Efficiency and Decreased Virus Infectivity, u003Ciu003EJournal of Virologyu003C/iu003E (2016). DOI: 10.1128/JVI.00149-16

Related Stories

Engineering the immune system to kill cancer cells

June 15, 2016
In late 2015, former President Jimmy Carter announced that he was free of the metastatic melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. In addition to surgery and radiation, Carter was treated with an immunotherapy drug, ...

HIV vaccine research requires unprecedented path

July 12, 2016
The development of an effective vaccine to prevent HIV infections would represent a critical step toward ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Thus far, the only large clinical trial for an HIV vaccine to show promise was the RV144 ...

Researchers identify potent antibodies against HIV

April 6, 2016
It's been known for some time that the immune system can produce antibodies capable of "neutralizing" HIV, and stopping the AIDS-causing virus dead in its tracks.

Nowhere to hide: Treatment targets HIV's last hiding place

July 13, 2016
While HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, we are yet to defeat it entirely. However, a new study from Oxford University offers hope that HIV will eventually have nowhere to hide. Tom Calver spoke to Professor ...

Stem cell gene therapy holds promise for eliminating HIV infection

July 1, 2015
cientists at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research are one step closer to engineering a tool that could one day arm the body's immune system to fight HIV—and win. The new technique ...

Antibodies from unconventional B cells less likely to neutralize HIV, study finds

March 17, 2016
Antibodies derived from a type of immune cell found in unusually high numbers in HIV-infected individuals with chronically uncontrolled virus levels are less effective at neutralizing HIV than antibodies derived from a different ...

Recommended for you

Scientists divulge latest in HIV prevention

July 25, 2017
A far cry from the 1990s "ABC" campaign promoting abstinence and monogamy as HIV protection, scientists reported on new approaches Tuesday allowing people to have all the safe sex they want.

Girl's HIV infection seems under control without AIDS drugs

July 24, 2017
A South African girl born with the AIDS virus has kept her infection suppressed for more than eight years after stopping anti-HIV medicines—more evidence that early treatment can occasionally cause a long remission that, ...

Meds by monthly injection might revolutionize HIV care (Update)

July 24, 2017
Getting a shot of medication to control HIV every month or two instead of having to take pills every day could transform the way the virus is kept at bay.

Candidate AIDS vaccine passes early test

July 24, 2017
The three-decade-old quest for an AIDS vaccine received a shot of hope Monday when developers announced that a prototype triggered the immune system in an early phase of human trials.

Paris spotlight on latest in AIDS science

July 21, 2017
Some 6,000 HIV experts gather in Paris from Sunday to report advances in AIDS science as fading hopes of finding a cure push research into new fields.

Scientists elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV in calves

July 20, 2017
Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health have achieved a significant step forward, eliciting broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) to HIV by immunizing calves. The findings offer insights for HIV vaccine ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Frosted Flake
not rated yet Jul 15, 2016
Question : Can these modified T-cells be used in any patient? Or do the T-cells come from the patient, get modified, and then get put back? Third alternative escaping me?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.