The immune system protein interleukin-7 may help flush out HIV viral reservoirs and possibly eradicate HIV from the body when used in combination with antiretroviral drugs, researchers from Thomas Jefferson University's Center for Human Virology and Biodefense report in the January 3 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. While antiretrovirals have been effective in suppressing HIV replication in HIV patients, the virus can lurk in dormant immune system cells and escape the effects of anti-HIV drugs. When the cells reactivate--years or even decades later--the virus becomes active and starts making copies of itself. The long lives of these viral reservoirs have led some AIDS experts to suggest that an HIV-positive person may never be rid of the virus and be forced to take anti-HIV medications indefinitely.
The researchers studied a variety of immune system chemicals, including several interleukins, and discovered that when IL-7 was administered in conjunction with an antiretroviral drug cocktail it was effective in reactivating dormant HIV-infected cells. Previous studies have shown that IL-5 similarly activated dormant cells. The researchers say combining IL-7 with other compounds like IL-5 could possibly deplete viral reservoirs in the body. "The only way we are going to cure this disease is by getting rid of the latent virus," lead researcher Roger Pomerantz told BBC News. "It's a little bit like treating cancer. You give induction treatment to stop the viral load and then use this approach to get rid of the residual disease, much like chemotherapy."