One in 10 Children has “Monkey-Like” Immune System that stops them developing AIDS
Anew British study suggests that 10 percent of children have a “monkey-like” immune system that prevents them from developing AIDS.
The research, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, found that the children’s immune systems were “keeping calm”, which stopped them being wiped out.
An untreated HIV infection will kill 60 percent of children within two-and-ahalf years, but the equivalent infection in monkeys – Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) is not fatal.
BBC News reports that researchers analysed the blood of 170 children from South Africa who had HIV, had never had antiretroviral therapy and had not developed AIDS.
Tests showed they had tens of thousands of human immunodeficiency viruses in every millilitre of their blood. This would normally send their immune system into overdrive, trying to fight the infection, or simply make them seriously ill, but neither had happened.
Professor Philip Goulder, one of the researchers from the University of Oxford, told the BBC: “Essentially, their immune system is ignoring the virus as far as possible. Waging war against the virus is, in most cases, the wrong thing to do.”
In defiance of conventional wisdom, not attacking the virus seems to save the immune system.
HIV kills white blood cells – the warriors of the immune system – and when the body’s defences go into overdrive, chronic levels of inflammation can kill even more of them.
According to Professor Goulder: “One of the things that comes out of this study is that HIV disease is not so much to do with HIV, but with the immune response to it.”
Scientists see striking similarities between the way the 10 percent of children cope with the virus and the way more than 40 non-human primate species cope with SIV.
The monkeys have had hundreds of thousands of years to evolve ways to tackle the infection.
“Natural selection has worked in these cases, and the mechanism is very similar to the one in these kids that don’t progress [to full-blown AIDS],” Prof Goulder said.
This defence against AIDS is almost unique to children. Adult humans’ immune systems tend to go all-out to finish off the virus in a campaign that nearly always ends in failure.
The BBC explains that children have a relatively tolerant immune system, which becomes more aggressive in adulthood. Chickenpox, for example, is far more severe in adults due to the way the immune system reacts.
Dr. Ann Chahroudi and Dr. Guido Silvestri, from Emory University in the U.S. said the study might have found the “very earliest signs of coevolution of HIV in humans.”
Professor Goulder believes these findings in children could ultimately help rebalance the immune system in all HIV patients.
“We may be identifying an entirely new pathway by studying kids that in the longer term could be translated to new treatments for all HIV infected people,” he told the BBC.
The solution to the global epidemic may be closer than we think.