An experimental treatment may help coax out hard-to-treat HIV-infected cells and improve the effectiveness of currently available treatments.

Researchers say recent advances in HIV treatments have lead to dramatic improvements in the health of many HIV-infected people. Many of those now have virtually undetectable HIV levels in their blood.

Yet despite the effectiveness of these treatments at reducing HIV levels, a persistent pool of HIV-infected cells remains and prevents complete elimination of the infection.

In this study, researchers found that an immune system agent known as IL-7 can activate these latent cells and make them more susceptible to HIV drugs.

The results appear in the Jan. 3 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

New Approach May Improve HIV Treatment

In the study, researchers compared the effects of combining IL-7 with HIV drugs in a group of 14 HIV-infected people. All of the participants had virtually undetectable HIV levels in their blood for at least one year before the study began.

The study showed that IL-7 was significantly more effective than other immune system chemicals in reactivating dormant HIV-infected cells that are currently untreatable.

Researchers say IL-7 works by increasing the turnover of latent pools of HIV by activating the cells, which promotes cell death and accelerates the clearance of the virus by HIV drugs.

They say the results indicate IL-7 could potentially be combined with other agents to potentially deplete reservoirs of HIV in the body.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: Wang, F. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, January 2005; vol 115: pp 128-137.