The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


30 Nov 2022

‘We cannot and will not stop until we find a cure’ on World AIDS Day

Imagine popping new batteries into the back of a toy and watching it wake up. 

The way we want to cure HIV is something very similar. 

When HIV infects our cells, they are usually detected and killed by the immune system. However, some cells go to sleep and remain undetected. This is why HIV stays in our body for the rest of our life. 

With currently available treatment, we can prevent immense immune system destruction and death caused by the virus, but you must take the medication everyday but in some parts of the world it is extremely difficult to access them, and even with treatment you are still at heightened risks of other complications such as heart disease and bone weakness. 

Therefore, what we need is a one-off treatment, a cure. 

In order to achieve this, what we need is our immune system to detect, kill, and thus eliminate all the HIV infected cells from our body regardless of whether they are asleep or not. 

The issue is that the HIV infected sleeping cells are impossible to be detected and killed. 

However, the good news is, we now have a new drug that may be able to successfully wake up the HIV infected sleeping cells. 

It’s like the new batteries for the toy. Your Furby starts crying and you can find it. 

Once the cells are woken up, they can be detected and killed by the immune system. 

In order to test this, that’s where my project comes in. I will infect cells with HIV and let them go to sleep, then treat them with the drug and add some immune cells. 

If the drug is successful in waking up the cells, all the HIV infected cells will get detected and killed by the immune cells. 

I will also test how awake the cells are, how long it takes to wake them up, and investigate the mechanism behind how the cells are woken up by the drug, any adverse effects caused by the drug and if the drug can wake up all the HIV infected sleeping cells equally because, for example, some cells might be sleeping more deeply than others and may not respond to the drug. 

If the elimination of all HIV infected cells from our body can be achieved, it will be a promising cure for a disease that’s affecting tens of millions of people worldwide. We cannot and will not stop until we find a cure. 


Presented by University of Melbourne PhD researcher Kiho Tanaka from the Lewin lab - winner of the 2022 Doherty Institute 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.