Results from a small study suggest that in some individuals with well-controlled HIV infection, replacing antiretroviral therapy with interferon treatment may help the immune system control HIV. The findings also suggest that interferon treatment may lower HIV levels in ‘reservoirs’ where it hides from antiretroviral drugs.
Interferon is a protein produced by immune cells that stimulates immune function. An artificial form of interferon is a common line of treatment for hepatitis C infection and some types of cancers.
“Our data shows that our human immune response can be made to control HIV in persons who have otherwise lost that ability,” said Dr. Luis Montaner, Director of the HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, and senior author of the study, in a recent press release.
“And while we still have much to pursue with this early clinical finding, I firmly believe this gives us hope that one day we can control – and eventually eradicate – HIV in absence of antiretroviral therapy,” he added.
Dr. Montaner noted that HIV usually impairs interferon-producing immune cells after infection. “But in our study, conducted at a later stage of chronic infection in an individual, we saw that adding interferon to a recovered immune system can have a dramatic effect in directing responses against HIV to both control and reduce its detection within places we know it can hide,” he said.
“While our data may not immediately change clinical practice, it identifies the first strategy that shows a clinical response where both viral replication and HIV reservoir indicators are observed to be reduced in the absence of current [antiretroviral therapy],” said Dr. Montaner. “This is the type of response HIV cure research aims to achieve.”
Results from this study were presented last week at the 19th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle.