July 13, 2021

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) attacks the body’s immune system, and if left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). HIV/AIDS currently impacts 38 million people worldwide. While there is no cure yet, proper medical care can control the disease and allow for a relatively long and healthy life. In particular, antiviral therapy (ART) is the current leading treatment for HIV/AIDS and can reduce the virus to undetectable levels. 

Yerkes National Primate Research Center researchers, in collaboration with Institut Pasteur, recently determined that when added to ART, a combination immunotherapy of Interleukin-21 (IL-21) and interferon alpha (IFNɑ) is effective in generating highly functional natural killer (NK) cells that can help control and reduce simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the primate equivalent to HIV, content in tissue.

“Our results indicate the ART plus combo-treated rhesus monkeys showed enhanced antiviral NK cell responses,” says Justin Harper, lab manager of Dr. Mirko  Paiardini’s research lab at Yerkes. “These robust NK cell responses helped clear cells harboring virus in lymph nodes, which is normally shielded from robust immune responses and serves as a critical tissue that supports viral persistence.”

These new findings open the door to additional treatment strategies to help support remission without using ART, a costly treatment option that requires strict, long-term adherence. Ultimately, the researchers are working to reduce the burden of HIV to individuals and the world. To learn more about NPRC research into HIV/AIDs, please visit here

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