A study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, AIDS Institute has identified two chemical compounds that may help boost the anti-HIV activity of immune system cells and help HIV-positive people fight the disease without invasive gene therapy. The study data, presented at the 2005 Palm Springs, Calif., Symposium on HIV/AIDS, shows that the chemical compounds activate telomerase--a human protein that boosts immune cells' ability to divide, enabling them to continue destroying HIV-infected cells in the body.
"The immune cells that fight HIV naturally produce telomerase during the infection's early phase but stop once HIV becomes a chronic condition," Rita Effros, a professor of gerontology and pathology at UCLA explains in a press release. "The two compounds switched telomerase back on in the cells." Immune cells that battle HIV must constantly divide in order to continue performing their protective functions. But the massive amount of division necessary to fight HIV can ultimately exhaust the cells. Telomerase rejuvenates these cells and allows them to remain youthful and active as they replicate under HIV's attack.
In earlier research the UCLA team showed that inserting the telomerase gene into the immune cells of an HIV-positive person prevented the cells from aging prematurely. The telomerase enabled the immune cells to divide indefinitely, stimulated their production of a viral-fighting molecule, and prolonged their power to kill HIV-infected cells.
"I'm really excited by our findings," says Effros. "This progress moves us one step closer to drugs that work by switching telomerase on permanently and keeping the immune cells young and strong in their fight against infection. These therapies are also easier to develop than gene-therapy drugs."