Scientists have discovered the body's immune system can actually find hidden HIV cells and kill them, giving hope a cure for the deadly virus could be found soon.
HIV can be kept in check by antiviral drugs, but treatment is life-long because they don't kill the virus, which can hide inside lymph nodes away from both the drugs and the body's immune system. When treatment stops, the virus always comes back.
But scientists at Monash University's Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Australia have discovered T cells, a specialised type of white blood cell, are able to find and kill HIV - they just need a helping hand.
"We've shown for the first time that there are specialised killer T cells that can migrate into a part of the lymphoid tissue and control hidden infection," said Dr Di Yu, who led the research.
PhD student Yew Ann Leong said the follicular cytotoxic T cells can also be used to fight other life-long viral infections, such as glandular fever.
"This discovery will help us to design new therapies that could eventually treat many different infections."
The team's hope is that human trials of therapies involving T cells will begin in the next five years.
"We could potentially transfer these specialised super potent killer T cells into patients, or we could treat patients with proteins that can drag these specialised killer T cells into the right spots, specifically to the hot spots where HIV can hide from antiviral treatment," said Professor Sharon Lewin, who co-authored the study.
The research was published today in journal Nature Immunology.