Immunotherapy is described as the prevention or treatment of disease with substances that stimulate the immune response. This treatment was recently referred to as “the next frontier in cancer treatment” by a medical oncologist and director of the Sandton Oncology unit, Doctor Daniel Vorobiof. Research has shown that this type of treatment may have potential to treat and prevent other diseases.
There was an estimated number of 7 million people with HIV in South Africa in 2016. This is a reminder that a large proportion of South Africans are growing old either infected or affected by HIV and Aids. Scientists believe lab experiments with monkeys suggest that immunotherapy holds promise as a long-term treatment for HIV. According to research, treatment with two anti-HIV antibodies right after infection might help keep the Aids-causing virus in check for a prolonged period.
Researchers from Rockefeller University in New York City and the US National Institutes of Health say, in spite of an arsenal of HIV drugs, effective long-term treatment remains volatile because inactive versions of the virus lie in wait for an opportunity to attack the immune system. Michel Nussenzweig, head of Rockefeller’s laboratory of molecular immunology stated, “This form of therapy can induce potent immunity to HIV, allowing the host to control the infection. It works by taking advantage of the immune system’s natural defenses, similar to what happens in some forms of cancer immunotherapy.”
The scientists used a model of HIV infection that affects macaque monkeys. It’s not the same as human HIV infection, and results of animal studies are not always replicated in humans. The study authors said the research involved two medications known as broadly neutralizing antibodies. These antibodies bind to different sites of the virus and work together to prevent it from causing damage.
Thirteen monkeys were exposed to the simian HIV virus for the research. They then received three IV treatments of the two antibodies over the course of two weeks. The treatment effectively suppressed the virus, rendering it undetectable, or at nearly undetectable levels for up to six months. Once treatment ended, the virus resurfaced in all but one animal.
However, months later, viral levels in six of the monkeys dropped spontaneously and remained virtually undetectable for another five to thirteen months. Important immune cells also remained at healthy levels. Four other monkeys didn’t completely control the virus but kept it at very low levels for up to three years after infection.
The study found that, overall, the antibody immunotherapy benefited ten of the thirteen monkeys. Further research revealed that certain immune cells, called cytotoxic T cells, are key to controlling the virus. In a new experiment, the scientists are waiting two to six weeks to treat the infected monkeys since this is how long it usually takes for an HIV-infected person to be diagnosed.