T-cell infected with HIV: T. Deerinck, NCMIR/Science Photo Library About one in 200 persons infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) doesn't develop symptoms of AIDS, or they develop AIDS more slowly than others infected with the virus. These elite persons are called 'elite controllers' by the research community, and they have been subjects of research for the past two decades. Recently, Harvard and MIT immunologists just came one step closer to understanding the elite controllers and one step closer to an HIV vaccine.
The research team looked at the gene HLA B57, a gene unique to the elite controllers. What they found was that HLA B57 causes the body to develop very potent T-cells (types of white blood cells that specifically fight infection), and that these potent T-cells are capable of effectively attacking and destroying HIV-infected cells and even HIV mutants, while normal T-cells are not. The high-powered T-cells sometimes get reckless, however, and destroy normal cells, leaving the body more prone to autoimmune diseases.
Everyone has a few of the super killer T-cells, though they're less powerful and less numerous than persons with the HLA B57 gene. MIT's Arup Chakraborty, PhD, and Harvard's Bruce D. Walker, MD, the leads in this study, think that with the right vaccine, they might be able to coax the super killer T-cells in normal persons to rev up their action and, through cloning themselves, be able to fight the HIV infection.
The study is published in the May 5, 2010 issue of Nature.
sources: BBC, Nature News, WebMD