Scientists have long been finding it difficult to create an AIDS vaccine due to high genetic variability of the HIV virus.
"Our approach is unique in the world: no one else has yet developed customized immunotherapy using the virus from individual patients," said . Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, from MUHC.
"This experimental technique remains long and costly for the moment, but we're hoping it will hold the promise of a completely innovative and widely available treatment in the future," he added
This immunotherapy is based on the properties of dendritic cells, whose role is to present specific proteins from infectious organisms at their surface, thereby alerting the rest of the immune system.
In collaboration with Argos Therapeutics, the researchers designed a study in which the dendritic cells of nine study patients were multiplied in vitro and then treated with the RNA (ribonucleic acid) from the virus that had infected each patient. A virus sample was taken before the administration of any antiretroviral treatment.
The surfaces of these manipulated dendritic cells present an increased number of HIV proteins, which allows them to stimulate the cytotoxic response of a certain type of immune cell called CD8+ lymphocytes.
After receiving multiple subcutaneous injections of these dendritic cells, eight of the nine patients involved experienced a significant increase in CD8+ lymphocyte activity.
"At this stage, we have shown that the technique doesn't cause side effects or an undesirable auto-immune response," said Dr. Routy.