New tool to fight viruses?

A new device caught my eye this week. Marketed by Aethlon Medical, it claims
to treat HIV and other viral infections by removing viral particles from the
blood. Aethlon claims the device could be used against HIV, hepatitis, and
biological warfare agents such as Ebola and smallpox. Great news, but it sounds
too good to be true. Could this really work?

I searched the company website and found we are basically talking about a
hemodialysis apparatus with a twist. The target virus is filtered from the blood
through a membrane. Once through, a variety of antibodies immobilised in the
device bind the viruses to remove them from circulation.

Any antibody binding method relies on the virus protein that the antibody
targets not changing. The Hemopurifier device is no exception but it can get
round this problem by using several antibodies. This means the virus would have
to change several proteins at once to avoid capture. A similar strategy is used
in drug treatment regimens with diseases prone to develop drug resistance –
several drugs at once reduce the chance of resistance developing. I think the
device may still exert a pressure on viruses to change and escape capture
perhaps by developing variants that infect parts of the body away from blood.
HIV is already known to do this, so using this device would probably not cure
that disease, only slow it down.

The Hemopurifier could have an advantage over drugs in that new antibodies
could be added to the system relatively quickly compared to the time needed for
drug development. But antibodies themselves need some development time.

Aethlon began work on HIV and has several published papers on this a few
years ago. Clinical trials start soon in India on HIV according to company
information.

What about use of the device against other viruses including potential
bioterrorism agents? I could find nothing peer reviewed on any viruses other
than HIV. Are they just jumping on the bandwagon?

References and links

Video news story

Tullis, R. H., Mathematical
model of the effect of affinity hemodialysis on the T-cell depletion leading to
AIDS.
In Advances in end-stage renal diseases 2004 84-91.

Richard H. Tullis>R. Paul Duffin, Marvin Zech, Julian L. Ambrus Affinity
hemodialysis for HIV therapy II
Blood Purification
2003;21:58–63

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