Published Date : Apr 18, 2018
Researchers from the University of Waterloo have designed a new tool that can help protect women better from HIV transmission. The tool is a vaginal implant and can help reduce the number of cells in the women’s genital tract that can be targeted by the HIV virus. Unlike conventional prevention methods for HIV, including anti-HIV drugs and condoms, the new device takes advantage of the immunity to the virus that some people naturally have.
The HIV virus corrupts T cells in the body, which are mobilized by the body’s immune system in reaction to the entry of the virus in a person’s body. When these T cells are not mobilized and remain resting, not attempting to combat the virus, they remain uninfected and HIV is not transmitted between people. This state, when the T cells remain resting, is known as the state of immune quiescent.
This new device takes inspiration from a previous research that involved sex workers from Kenya. It was observed in Kenya that many sex workers who had sex with HIV +ve clients did not contract the virus. It was later found that the said women had T cells that were immune quiescent naturally. After observing this, the researchers started looking for ways of pharmacologically inducing immune quiescence to T cells with the help of medicines. Thus it was deduced that by delivering the right medication where it is needed, the chances of inducing T cells’ immune quiescence could be increased.
This led to the discovery of the implant, which combines a hollow tubes along with two pliable arms that can hold the tube in place. The tube contains the medicine hydroxychloroquine released slowly through the tube’s porous material and is then absorbed by the walls of the vaginal tract. Tests in animal model have demonstrated that the use of the implant can lead to a significant reduction in the activation of T cells, which infers that the vaginal tract was representing immune quiescent state.