Health Watch -- AIDS Research

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A new approach to treating AIDS may be to deactivate the immune system. That may seem like a strange way to fight a disease, but that's what researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Emory University believe after their research on one kind of monkey.

Sooty mangabey monkeys don't become ill when they're infected by SIV, the monkey equivalent of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Even if they have as much virus in their systems as humans do when they've got a full-blown case of AIDS, they don't get sick. Researchers decided that understanding how these monkeys avoid the disease may provide clues for helping humans.

They determined that one big difference is that the monkeys' immune systems only have a low-level response to an SIV infection, and they don't lose their ability to make new T cells. T cells help other immune system cells fight infection. In contrast, when humans are infected with HIV, the immune system gets activated at an abnormally high level, depleting the T cells. The immune system then isn't able to produce enough new T cells.

Based on this understanding, doctors can now look for ways to duplicate the mangabey monkeys' immune response in humans. It might be possible to deactivate the immune system in a very specific way so that T cells aren't depleted, and so the immune system can continue to make new T cells to fight AIDS.