A Milestone: ARA Extracts Patient’s HIV Reservoir Cells

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August 08 2014

By Stefanie Homann

This summer, we at AIDS Research Alliance reached an important milestone: We conducted our first leukapheresis procedure, working with an HIV-positive patient to extract white blood cells, which harbor the rare HIV reservoir cells, from his blood. Why is this important? Because the reservoir cells are what prevent doctors from curing HIV/AIDS. By having a sample of these cells, we will be able to advance our studies, testing prostratin’s activation efficacy on the reservoirs.

Leuka patient
Our technician checking in on our leukapheresis study volunteer

On a Tuesday morning, Eric, our study volunteer, came into our clinic to have his white blood cells extracted by our apheresis machine. After four hours, we had generated what we needed to perform the next step in our prostratin studies: a “leukopak,” or a solution of white blood cells. These white blood cells contain the HIV reservoir cells. Only about five percent of these white blood cells are memory CD4 T cells, and of those, only one in a million harbors latent HIV.

This is an important step in our cure research, which will help the scientific community better understand how we can eliminate the reservoir, and cure HIV/AIDS. Eric explained to me why he was participating in this research, “I watch The Walking Dead. When I watch it, I think about what would happen to me if society fell apart, if hospitals shut down and we didn’t have access to HIV medications. I would be dead. Finding a cure means survival.”

AIDS Research Alliance’s ability to generate a leukopak of white blood cells from an HIV positive volunteer is unique. Not many research labs have the ability and machine to procure white blood cells from HIV positive volunteers, and very few research labs have the capability to generate this cell sample in-house. Having the volunteer well characterized, and having extracted the cells at AIDS Research Alliance, we have valuable insight into the time of the cell donor’s initial infection, possible co-infections, and his drug adherence history. This will help us better understand how these variables influence our experiments and their outcomes.

Next, I will move from the clinic into the research lab, where I will extract the HIV reservoir cells from the patient’s white blood cells. Stay tuned for my next update, where I will show you how I do that, and what I find.

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