[ASC-media] Australian "OPAL" provides hope for HIV treatment

Elaine Mulcahy emulcahy at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Feb 28 12:03:50 EST 2005


The University of Melbourne
Media Release

AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

News Desk / News Editors

Australian "OPAL" provides hope for HIV treatment

Date: February 28, 2005

Australian researchers have made a major discovery in the fight against
AIDS, with the development of a novel, simple and safe technique for
boosting the body's immune response to deadly viruses like HIV, which is
even effective against drug resistant forms of the disease.

Associate Professor Stephen Kent from the University of Melbourne's
Department of Microbiology and Immunology says the findings hold great
promise for the treatment of HIV, other chronic viral infections, and
drug resistant infections, which are becoming a major problem.

"We have invented a simple new technology to boost the ability of the
immune system to fight chronic infections such as AIDS and Hepatitis C.
This involves using a patient's own blood treated with small overlapping
proteins of the virus (called peptides)," Associate Professor Kent says.

The research will be published today in the Journal of Virology.
**Images of Associate Professor Kent and his research team are
available.

The researchers call the therapy Overlapping Peptide Pulsed Autologous
Cells (OPAL). They have been awarded National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC) funding of almost $500,000 to refine the
technique so that it can be studied in humans.

"The ability to induce and expand the immune response across most or all
parts of the virus is highly advantageous. Our results, which
consistently demonstrated sharply enhanced immunity in vaccinated
animals, suggest that this therapy could also work in humans."

The researchers initially set out to develop a technique for measuring
the effectiveness of a HIV vaccine. They first extracted blood from
previously vaccinated animals and then coated the cells with HIV peptide
markers (a technique which only takes an hour to complete). 

In a normal situation, when HIV or any virus infects a cell, it leaves
behind tell-tale markers or peptides on the cell surfaces which tell the
immune system that the cell is infected. In this study, the researchers
did not infect the animals with HIV, but rather created the illusion to
the body that these cells were infected because they had the tell-tale
markers (peptides) on their surface.

When they injected this peptide-coated blood back into the vaccinated
animals they found that it triggered a huge immune response.

"When we analysed HIV-specific immunity in the weeks following the
assays (peptide-coating), a marked enhancement of virus-specific
immunity was induced," Associate Professor Kent says.

"The technique was also effective for boosting the immune response to
Hepatitis C peptides and we believe that it could be refined for many
different viral infections and cancers. We have also shown it can be
used to induce immune responses against drug resistant forms of HIV. The
OPAL technique is simpler than current cell-based vaccine techniques
which usually require isolation of rare specialised cells from blood."

Associate Professor Kent led a dedicated team of scientists, Ms Socheata
Chea, Dr Jane Dale and Dr Rob De Rose at the University of Melbourne's
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and collaborated with
colleague Dr Ian Ramshaw at the Australian National University's John
Curtin School of Medical Research. 

Associate Professor Kent says there is an urgent need to develop simple
methods to induce or enhance HIV-specific immunity to prevent or control
the disease. "Our research is a major step forward in this regard."

The researchers will now embark on a series of experiments to refine the
technique to make it even more practical and generate even bigger
responses. Associate Professor Kent's group plans to begin human testing
of the OPAL therapy in the next one to two years.

More Information:

Media Officer, University of Melbourne
Elaine Mulcahy
Phone : 8344 0181
Mobile : 0421 641 506
Email : emulcahy at unimelb.edu.au

Microbiology and Immunology
Stephen Kent
Phone : 8344 9939
Mobile : 0438 290994
Email : skent at unimelb.edu.au

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