Scientists from the University of Waterloo, Canada, have developed an implant which will help to protect women from HIV infection.
The new tool is a vaginal implant which works by decreasing the number of cells that HIV can target in a woman’s genital tract and thus reducing the risk of HIV infection.
Compared to the conventional prevention methods for HIV, such as condoms or anti-HIV medication, the implant will take advantage of some people’s natural immunity to the virus.
HIV infects the body by corrupting T cells that are mobilised by the immune system when the virus enters a person’s body.
If these cells are resting and not attempting to fight the virus, they are not infected, and therefore the HIV virus is not transmitted between people. This is known as being immune quiescent.
An implant is more reliability
Emmanuel Ho, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at Waterloo, said: “We know that some drugs taken orally never make it to the vaginal tract, so this implant could provide a more reliable way to encourage T cells not to respond to infection and therefore more reliably and cheaply prevent transmission.
“What we don’t know yet is if this can be a standalone option for preventing HIV transmission or if it might be best used in conjunction with other prevention strategies. We aim to answer these questions with future research.”
What is the implant?
It was inspired by previous research involving sex workers in Kenya. During their time there, Ho and research partner Keith Fowke of the University of Manitoba, Canada, observed that the women who did not contract HIV from the infected clients possessed T cells and were naturally immune quiescent.
Ho added: “By delivering the medication exactly where it’s needed, we hoped to increase the chances of inducing immune quiescence.”
The implant is composed of a hollow tube and two pliable arms to hold it in place. It contains hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) which is disseminated slowly through the porous material of the tube and absorbed by the walls of the vaginal tract.
It was tested on an animal model and a significant reduction in T cell activation was observed, meaning that the vaginal tract was demonstrating an immune-quiescent state.