Having their immune system cells go through a laboratory version of boot camp may be the answer to HIV, believe University of Pittsburgh researchers. The patients own dendritic cells are being galvanized to rally other cells of the immune system in fighting the virus unique to that individual.

In particular, the approach aims to activate a type of T cell called a CD8, or cytotoxic, T cell, also known as killer T cell. In a typical immune response, CD8 cells are called to action by dendritic cells. Persons infected with HIV and being treated with antiretroviral drugs can control but not eliminate HIV infection. If the drug therapy is discontinued, the virus comes roaring back.

Charles R. Rinaldo, Jr., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the department of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health, and others hypothesized that this is because drug therapy does not completely restore CD8 cell immunity to the virus. So, in trying to figure a way to activate the CD8 cells to more efficiently control HIV, the researchers focused on a molecule called interleuken-12 (IL-12). When dendritic cells recognise and capture viral antigens, they work together with CD4 T cells to release IL-12, which in turn triggers stimulation of killer CD8 cells which are specific to the virus.

"The goal of the approach is to teach killer T cells to more efficiently find, detect and destroy HIV infected cells. Our vaccine, as an immunotherapy, is custom-designed to target the unique virus that has evolved in each individual being treated. A patient's own dendritic cells together with their unique viral antigens comprise the main elements of the vaccine," said Charles R. Rinaldo.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center