Scientists have confirmed that HIV can survive in another less-explored type of white blood cell.
Until now, efforts to find a treatment and cure have focused on blocking the virus T-cells, which is a type of white blood cell that is important to the immune system.
However, new research by the University of Carolina reveals that HIV can also persist exclusively in macrophages – large white blood cells found in the liver, lungs, bone marrow and brain.
This pioneering discovery could explain why no treatment has successfully cured anyone with the disease, despite tremendous advances in suppressing the virus.
“These results are paradigm changing because they demonstrate that cells other than T-cells can as act as a reservoir for HIV,” said Dr. Jenna Honeycutt.
“The fact that HIV-infected macrophages can persist means that any possible therapeutic intervention to eradicate HIV might have to target two very different types of cells,” Honeycutt, the lead author and postdoctoral research associate in the UNC Division of Infectious Diseases, added.
Advances in HIV treatments have made it possible for a daily regimen of pills to render the virus undetectable and untransmittable.
Approximately 30 percent of the United State’s 1.2 million infected with HIV have attained an undetectable viral load.
A person with the virus becomes ‘undetectable’ when treatment targeting T-cells suppresses the virus to a level so low in their blood, that it cannot be detected by measurements.
If a person is undetectable and stays on treatment, they cannot pass the virus to a partner.
Up to now, an undetectable load is almost always achieved with daily doses of antiretroviral drugs.