Three researcher teams looking to replicate another researching team’s results in 2016 that they cured monkeys’ HIV-like infection have been unable to do so.
The findings were published in the Science journal after growing concern about the work the 2016 study had carried out.
In 2016, researchers treated SIV-infected monkeys with the HIV antiviral treatment and targeted the a4b7 protein using an antibody. After nine months of no longer giving the monkeys treatment, the team said the monkeys have no signs of the virus re-emerging. A cure may have been found.
The news regarding the potential cure spread like wildfire throughout the community. Others tried to replicate the 2016 team’s efforts but with no success. Later, reports brought to life that someone had used another kind of SHIV virus without making the others aware of it. Once this revelation came to life, the researcher said he altered the virus under the assumption it was more similar to HIV than the one initially being used.
After this news broke, two researcher teams worked to replicate the 2016 team’s results using the SIV variant… with no success. Both teams published their report in Science. Another team has attempted to replicate the results of the 2016 team and also failed.
Jeremy Berg, Science editor-in-chief, wrote a letter himself on why he felt it necessary to offer concern instead of a retraction.
According to him, the latest research of human and animal studies are proving that the 2016 experiment of monkeys with SIV were cured was flawed as of the result of a design admission. This research, at the time, had been published in the journal. The researchers used rhesus macaque monkeys and infected them with the HIV-like SIV.
After which, the monkeys were given a combo dose of drugs – antiretroviral therapy and the a4b7 protein.
Present HIV treatments reduce the virus’ levels down low enough to wear a person is not considered contagious and healthy. However, the virus embeds itself deep into the immune system where it can survive the drugs. If a person were to stop taking the drugs, the virus would reemerge and cause problems once more.
The early research suggested HIV uses the a4b7 protein to hide within cells, which is why researchers had hoped it could be used to destroy the virus entirely or place it in remission where people would no longer need the AZT regimen.
This is what appeared to occur in the 2016 study, and it would appear it was the first step in finding a cure for HIV.
As with any study in science, one study isn’t the end-all, be-all answer and additional studies were carried out. Other studies were conducted, such as the one at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. These studies were conducted to find if the 2016 Byrareddy study results could be replicated. As this was happening, news revealed that co-author Francois Villinger gave the research team another kind of SIV virus than reported in the journal. This virus doesn’t have the ability to produce the SIV-protein. The study’s author had no idea this had happened.
According to Villinger, the modified virus was provided because it worked similarly to HIV.
This omission was enough for Science to issue an editorial concern about the original study, but would not say the science was flawed entirely. Despite there being no “malfeasance” in play, there was some negligence in reporting the study in the journal.
In all three recent studies published in Science, there was a replication of most, not all, factors of the 2016 study and included more animals. The combination treatment, researchers found, did not keep SIV away after the drugs were no longer being administered. In fact, 19 people with HIV were given both ART and vedolizumab, and after halting the use, the virus came back.
This would suggest that the original study isn’t as powerful as the community once had hoped it was and not a working guide to finding HIV therapies and cures.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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