New Study Takes Deep Dive into Elite Control

Published Wednesday,By Rowena Johnston, Ph.D.

Doctor Xu Yu
Study lead author Dr. Xu Yu

Elite controllers (ECs) – rare individuals who control HIV infection without antiretroviral therapy (ART) – were described in new and unprecedented detail today in the prestigious journal Nature. Among the ECs they studied is an individual who, for all intents and purposes, may be considered “cured” of HIV.

To date, the bulk of research on elite control has focused on the immune system and its ability to quash the virus. In this new study, researchers instead looked closely at the DNA of individual infected cells, and asked whether the genetic environment into which the HIV inserts itself differs between ECs and others. Indeed, the virus in ECs is more likely to be found in “gene deserts,” regions where the HIV remains tightly locked down, unable to replicate.

Armed with this new vision of what one kind of cure might look like, researchers will now aim to induce the immune systems of non-controllers to bring about the same result.

The research, led by investigators at the Ragon Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, included several co-authors who are members of the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research.

Dr. Johnston is an amfAR vice president and director of research.