Biomarkers May Point to Post-Treatment Control
By Marcella Flores M.P.H., Ph.D.
Analytic treatment interruption (ATI)—stopping antiretroviral treatment under the supervision of a doctor—is used by HIV researchers to monitor the effectiveness of a curative intervention. Using ATI, researchers have identified a group of rare individuals able to control their virus without resuming treatment—post-treatment controllers (PTCs). Finding biomarkers that can predict post-treatment control without the need for treatment interruption is a priority for the HIV cure field, not least because this could help protect partners from unnecessary exposure to the virus.
Glycans are sugar molecules that attach to proteins and alter the roles they play in processes such as disease progression. For example, the function of antibodies in fighting infections can dramatically change depending on which glycans dot their surface. In this study, researchers ask whether glycans in blood plasma or on antibodies can be used to identify PTCs before they undergo ATI.
Researchers analyzed blood plasma and antibody glycans from 47 participants enrolled in ATI studies from two geographic locations: Philadelphia and Johannesburg, South Africa. Researchers found 13 distinct types of glycans that predicted prolonged delay to viral rebound, and six that predicted accelerated rebound during ATI.
Furthermore, because the HIV strains circulating in the U.S. are different than those in South Africa, the researchers’ findings suggest the potential to use these glycan biomarkers throughout the world.
The authors have found a simple, non-invasive means of predicting which participants might experience a delay to viral rebound in ATI studies. If validated in larger study cohorts, these glycan biomarkers could identify individuals for whom interventions aimed at antiretroviral treatment-free control of HIV might be more successful.
The lead author in this study, Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen of The Wistar Institute, is funded by amfAR.
Dr. Flores is amfAR’s associate director of research.