This discovery, also announced by the Pasteur Institute, may revolutionize HIV treatment, because so far patients must take antiretroviral drugs that do not kill the reservoirs (latent viruses) that are lodged in the cells of the immune system.
"Our job is to identify the infected cells so that we can concentrate better on them in order to eliminate them from the body", said study coordinator Asier Sáez-Cirión of the Pasteur Institute in a statement broadcast on RTL radio.
The team of researchers was able to identify the characteristics of CD4 T lymphocytes, the immune cells that HIV activates and uses to produce copies of itself.
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Existing treatments – antiretrovirals – prevent HIV from doing this and multiply, but they do not cure, that is, they do not end the virus but leave it dormant.
Now researchers have discovered that the virus infects preferably cells with a strong metabolic activity – such as CD4 – in which glucose consumption plays a key role. Understanding this mechanism will open a door to eliminate infected cells, experts say.
What the researchers have achieved is blocking the infection thanks to inhibitors of metabolic activity already exploited against cancer in experiments done ex vivo, that is, performed in or on biological tissues of an organism in an artificial environment.
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The researchers said the finding is a promising first step, though they have clarified that it still needs to be applied to patients.