Can We Stop Infected HIV Cells from Replicating?

Influenza virus, medically illustration

Dr. Tariq Rana and his colleagues discover a clue in stopping HIV cells from reproducing. A critical cellular player that controls HIV reproduction may be the key.

What is HIV? – Role of CD4 Cells

HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that damages the immune system of the affected person and if left untreated, can lead to AIDS. HIV kills CD4 cells, also known as T cells or immune cells. 

 T cells are of crucial significance for the immune system as they are at the core of the system that modifies the immune response towards specific diseases. They can be considered as an infantry unit of your body that looks out for any invader and kills it. Low CD4 cells mean a few infantry soldiers who would make it difficult for them to defeat the invader or the disease. 

How is HIV treated?

HIV is treated by a lifelong process of medication, an antiretroviral treatment that stops HIV cells from replicating. Medication includes a combination of three drugs taken in one medicine. It reduces the amount of HIV cells in the blood of the affected person. 

The treatment is highly effective as it reduces the HIV cell to a point where it is undetectable, and HIV cannot be transmitted to another person. But the treatment has to go on for the rest of the affected person’s life; otherwise, HIV would start replicating. As soon as the treatment stops, HIV will begin replicating at a much faster pace. As of yet, HIV cannot be cured. It remains active, even though at a very negligible level, during the treatment. 

The Critical Cellular Player

The identified cellular player controlling the HIV reproduction in the immune cells discovered by Dr. Tariq is an RNA molecule dubbed as HEALS. The team adopted genetic sequencing to discover it. The research concluded that if HEALS is deleted from the body of the person, HIV reservoirs hiding in the body will be eliminated, which means that even without the antiretroviral treatment, HIV would not replicate. 

Rana reported the presence of long noncoding RNA in HIV cells, and it was discovered that genes could be turned on or off, in other words, genes can be controlled by the help of this noncoding RNA. By modifying this noncoding RNA, HIV can be prevented from resurrection in immune cells. 

Additional research would be conducted on animals, as Dr. Tariq says that the most exciting part of this discovery has not been seen before. Adding more, he said that this finding is a potential therapeutic target and could be exploited like that. 

According to a survey conducted by UNAIDS in 2017, approximately 36.9 million people in the world are HIV positive. With the help of modern research and antiretroviral treatment, very few people face the development of AIDS.