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Driving out HIV

Researchers have been playing hide-and-seek with HIV for decades. With antiretroviral therapy (ART), patients are able to control the virus that can lead to AIDS but not stamp it out completely. Indeed, HIV buries itself in some cells only to revive itself when the treatment is stopped. Therein lies the problem, since ART can cause chronic inflammation and related complications such as cancer and premature aging of the arteries.

Daniel Kaufmann, researcher at the Research Centre of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, has developed a technique to detect the rare cells in which the virus is dormant in the hope of driving it out and eliminating it once and for all.

If there is HIV hidden in just one in a million cells, this cutting-edge technology will find it.

HIV mainly attacks immune cells known as T CD4 lymphocytes by rendering them unable to trigger the immune response and produce antibodies. The virus also happens to hide from ART in 0.01% of these cells, meaning that 99.9% of T CD4 lymphocytes are not viral reservoirs and thus making virus hunting substantially more challenging.

To find the proverbial needle in the haystack, the expert and his team optimized the flow cytometry imaging method by combining it with fluorescent markers that recognize the virus and are distinguishable with a laser. The result is 1000 times greater accuracy to reveal the expression of the virus in a single cell! If there is HIV hidden in just one in a million cells, this cutting-edge technology will find it.

Dr. Kaufmann’s group has also drawn up a complete picture of the genes of the T CD4 lymphocytes that perceive the virus in order to identify those that are altered or highly expressed in the presence of HIV. The investigators now aim to find the switch that will activate the immune cells to fight the clandestine virus.