According to researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Texas, they have found a new place in the body where the AIDS virus can hide out, even in the face of powerful drug therapies.Dr. George N. Pravlak, a senior scientist at the National Cancer Institute in Texas, found that their findings show a type of NK (natural killer) cell a significant cell of the immune system could be infected by HIV.
Not only do these cells get infected, they stay infected even with antiretroviral therapy. George felt that these cells are an important hiding place, a reservoir, for the virus. Doctors already know that HIV hides in one major place, T cells, which are another key component of the immune system.
In his study of 15 HIV-infected patients who had never received drug therapy, results showed that aggressive combination treatment dramatically reduced HIV levels in the blood, mostly to undetectable levels. But treatment did not eliminate the virus in either NK or T cells, according to results published in the May 14th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As with T cells, infected NK cells are capable of churning out more of the virus, continually fueling the disease.
George said that while AIDS researchers have been striving to eradicate HIV from patients, this has proved much more difficult than once thought. The new findings add to that challenge, providing one more hurdle that doctors must overcome.
But the hope is that we will be able to use this new information for good," he said. "For example, we may be able to tailor future treatment methods to try to suppress or purge the virus from these cells. George said that his team of researchers is already experimenting to see which AIDS drugs best fight HIV in NK cells. Hence it appears that the class of drugs known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, including zidovudine (AZT) and lamivudine (3TC), has an effect, he said.