Scientists are studying the role of neutrophils, a type of immune system cell, in combating HIV infection in the body.
Neutrophils are white blood cells that protect the human body from bacterial infections. To the naked eye, neutrophils are best seen as the major component of pus.
Low levels of neutrophils make it harder for the body to fight infection.
When body cells are damaged, the body releases "chemokines" a group of proteins that act as chemical messengers to attract neutrophils to the site. Neutrophils “eat” up invaders, then release enzymes to destroy the organism.
In the search for a HIV cure, researchers have mainly focused on natural killer (NK) cells which are also part of the immune system, because they receive a signal from antibodies to kill HIV-infected cells.
And because neutrophils are rarely studied, their role in killing infected cells has not been extensively documented. Placed in a petri dish, neutrophils rapidly adapted to their new environment and took a different form from the cells researchers intended to study.
Because neutrophils are hard to preserve in their natural state within human blood, the researchers developed a tool using cells from a cancer patient who donated her cells to science.
They used it to study how antibodies in a patient’s blood work with neutrophils. The particular cell sample used was preserved for research in 1977 by Dr Robert Gallo, one of three scientists who discovered that HIV causes AIDS.
Preserved in a petri dish, the cancerous cells can live indefinitely and maintain many of the same characteristics as fresh neutrophils.
Researchers found that neutrophils in the sample were six times more effective than NK cells in killing HIV-infected cells when antibodies were present.
As such, neutrophils could be used in the development of new HIV therapies or vaccines.
New machine boosts HIV fight in Kisumu
The Kenya Medical Research Institute has installed a molecular machine at the laboratory it runs with the Centres for Disease Control, to help HIV patients check their viral loads.
The facility has reduced the turnaround time for results, which traditionally take a month to process “With this upgraded equipment, we can do 960 samples in an eight-hour shift.
The turnaround time has reduced to less than 10 days,” said KEMRI/CDC HIV Research Lab Director Maxwell Majiwa to reporters during the launch.
He added that this would lead to quicker management of HIV in patients. Moreover, the molecular system could deal with the changing nature of the virus whose appearance and concentration in blood (viral load) can rapidly increase during lengthy testing.
Roche Diagnostics which supplied the machine called the Cobas 8800 is charged with maintaining it together with other partners. - Elizabeth Ojina