Wednesday, 13 Aug, 2008 Science

HIV Woman with No Symptoms May Hold a Secret to the Virus Cure


A woman who was infected with HIV virus by her husband but has never shown any symptoms may help scientists find a clue to AIDS vaccine, US researchers said.

The woman was infected 10 years ago by her husband and seems to hold a natural defense mechanism against a deadly virus, while her husband has to take strong medications to control his virus.

Scientists have been long studied how her body works to suppress the virus, calling the woman "elite suppressor". It was proved that she has a fully pathogenic virus, not the defective one as it was earlier suggested, Dr. Joel Blankson at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore explained.

The husband and the wife were monogamous for at least 17 years and the tests revealed they have the same strain of virus. However, it affects both of them differently as the woman's imuune system is able to suppress AIDS.

The Baltimore couple was diagnosed with AIDS 10 years ago. The man is a former injecting drug user.

The study showed that the wife's immune cells called CD8 T-cells stopped the virus replication by 90 percent, while husband's immune cells blocked it by 30 percent. Her HIV also seems to mutate and weaken in response to the immune attack of her body, while these changes were not noticed in her husband.

"Elite suppression offers clues to vaccine researchers on many fronts: how CD8 killer T-cells can attack HIV and how a stronger immune response can force HIV into a permanent defensive state," Blankson said.

Scientists work to understand what type of immune system signaling proteins her T-cells make to stop the replication of the virus. Until now it was discovered that the woman's T-cells produce gamma interferon, just like her husband's do and additionally tumor necrosis factor (TNF) proteins.

AIDS experts tried to use TNF proteins in the treatment of the patients but they have not succeeded yet. The woman's immune cells were shown to respond only when they meet the virus.

It is also suggested that her human leukocyte antigen system that plays an important role in the immune system works differently.

"That's a good sign in terms of developing a therapeutic vaccine," Blankson said. Though this vaccine might not been able to prevent infection, it can be very effective for the treatment.

Source: Reuters.

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