Researchers from The Rockefeller University have successfully developed for the first time, a monkey model with human version of the HIV virus.
By altering just one gene in HIV-1, scientists have succeeded in infecting pig-tailed macaque monkeys with a human version of the virus that has until now been impossible to study directly in animals.
The team led by Paul Bieniasz and Theodora Hatziioannou showed that two pig-tailed macaques, given a common antiretroviral treatment one week before and one week after being exposed to the newly engineered HIV, had no signs of infection.
"We're not saying we can save the world with antiretroviral pills. But this model will allow us to start studying the best way to administer prophylaxis and do other experiments on preventing HIV-1 infection that could not be easily done on humans," said Bieniasz.
Working along with Vineet KewalRamani and Jeffrey Lifson at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, the Bieniasz and Hatziioannou have developed a strain they call simian-tropic HIV-1 (stHIV-1), which shares about 95 percent of its genome with the human version.
The new virus, stHIV-1, spreads almost as quickly after injection as HIV-1 initially does in humans and it persists for several months, after which it is controlled.
The researchers showed that that control is in part thanks to a specific class of immune system T cells that if blocked, allow a resurgence of the virus.
The team demonstrated the use of the model by showing that a commonly used antiretroviral drug combination taken briefly before and after an injection of two million infectious units of stHIV-1 effectively protected the monkeys from the virus.
The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.