Scientists have perfected the “kick and kill” method to eliminate dormant HIV in 40% of mice.

HIV is hard to get rid of, as it hides right in the cellular reservoirs. But recent research shows that this problem can be overcome. In a new study, the authors improved the kick and kill technique and as a result were able to completely get rid of HIV in 40% of mice.

Today, HIV is a manageable disease, so patients on daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lead normal lives. This treatment prevents the virus from multiplying and reduces it to undetectable levels, yet HIV does not disappear completely. Instead, the virus lies dormant in reservoirs inside infected cells, ready to emerge if therapy is stopped.

The authors of the new work explored the “kick and kill” technique – this is a way to snatch the virus from its cellular shelter and destroy it. Past studies have shown good results: they have used immunotherapy, CRISPR gene editing, engineered stem cells, or the suppression of a specific RNA molecule. The researchers tested the new approach on HIV-infected mice with immune systems that are similar to those of humans. The team injected a synthetic compound called SUW133 that activates dormant HIV and allows ART drugs to find and kill infected cells. Within 24 hours, up to 25% of the desired cells were destroyed.

For the new study, the team found a way to improve the outcome. In addition to SUW133 and antiretroviral drugs, the researchers injected mice with healthy natural killer immune cells that target the virus as soon as it becomes active. The team found that the combination worked better and helped eliminate dormant HIV in 40% of the mice.