The recent discovery of a new group of antibodies allowed researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to engineer an immunotherapy with promise as a cancer treatment, CAR T-cell therapy, to be used against HIV, the virus causing AIDS.
While the study, “HIV-1-Specific Chimeric Antigen Receptors Based on Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies,” published in the Journal of Virology, showed the method to be working in the lab, authors underscored that there is no guarantee that it will work equally well in humans.
CARs, or chimeric antigen receptors, are in essence man-made immune T-cells equipped with receptors that allow them to find and attack infected or tumorous cells. The method is showing considerable success in clinical cancer studies worldwide, and Otto Yang, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s senior author, decided to give it a try in another difficult field — HIV.
The factor making Dr. Yang’s research possible was the discovery of antibodies with the ability to bind to numerous strains of viruses. Antibodies previously known to scientists are able to recognize just a few strains, so these seven so-called “broadly neutralizing antibodies” give researchers a new chance to take on the HIV virus, known to quickly mutate to evade immune responses.
“Others have used antibodies against cancer antigens to make artificial T-cell receptors against cancer and shown this to be helpful in cancer treatment,” Dr. Yang, who is also director of vaccine and pathogenesis research at the AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research at UCLA, said in a news release. Yang and his team are the first to report a successful laboratory version against HIV.
Using these antibodies in the creation of CAR T-cells allowed the scientists to make an immune cell recognizing numerous HIV strains. All seven antibodies could activate killer T-cells, a T-cell type that, as the name implies, kills infected or cancerous cells. In the lab, researchers observed how the new antibodies boosted the expansion of these T-cells, halting the spread of the virus.
But Dr. Yang remains cautious, noting “[w]hat works in a test tube doesn’t necessarily work in a person.” But he sees definite potential in the new method, and researchers now need to explore ways to deliver the treatment to humans.