Study digs into secrets of keeping HIV in check

Certain HIV-infected patients — about one in every 200 to 300 — are able to resist the AIDS virus for years. It appears these people have immune system cells that are better able to detect and kill HIV-infected cells, according to a new study co-authored by Bruce Walker, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious diseases at Harvard School of Public Health.

The immune system cells of these patients, known as “elite controllers” or “long-term non-progressors,” more easily “see” signs of trouble from infected cells that send out a type of distress signal, Walker told U.S. News & World Report on June 10, 2012. Essentially, they have better “glasses” than the same cells in HIV patients less able to resist the virus, he said.

The study, published online June 10, 2012 in Nature Immunology, may have implications for AIDS vaccine development, Walker said. “We can immediately start looking at vaccine candidates to see if our techniques of training these killer cells are leading to really good vision or not. We can also try to understand what it is that’s impaired the vision in some of these patients and allowed for good vision to develop in others.”

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Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases