Genetic researchers from the University of Florida and the University of California have placed a certain gene protein in cats that not only fights FIV, but may also be the key to an HIV cure. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, is the feline equivalent of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. The two viruses are not exact copies of one another, however scientists say they are closely related. The basic similarities in how these viruses grow inside their hosts is the reason that several green, glowing cats were genetically engineered in 2010. This week, Doctor Janet Yamamoto from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine gave us an update on the FIV-HIV vaccine research.
“One major reason why there has been no successful HIV vaccine to date is that we do not know which parts of HIV to combine to produce the most effective vaccine.” Yamamoto’s team of researchers is concentrating on the stimulation of T-cells in people with HIV. Specifically, they are trying to find a vaccine that causes these cells to attack the virus without mutating afterwards. To achieve this, the researchers are searching for a portion of the FIV structure that could be a catalyst for human T-cells.
So why the glowing cats? The research project began with two important elements: genes from macaque monkeys and genes from fluorescent jellyfish. The former are believed to be the reason for the lack of HIV infections in macaque monkeys, and the latter work as a tracking device to assure researchers that the first gene has taken effect in its host. This way, when genetically modified kittens born from in-vitro fertilization are observed under an ultraviolet light, they glow green. No glow means that the genetic modifications were not accepted in the cat’s DNA. Of one batch of five kittens, three survived and two went on to produce their own litters. The second generation of these cats also glows under UV light, and therefore possesses the genetic material necessary to combat FIV.
As far as an HIV vaccine is concerned, researchers like Yamamoto are trying to understand which parts of the virus to use. Viral vaccines usually are created from different pieces of the offending virus so that the body can learn about them and understand how to defeat them. Whichever parts of the virus are used in a vaccine need to be weak or completely dead in order to be beneficial to the recipient, or else they will simply cause an unwanted infection. Using data gathered from various studies conducted on FIV in cats and the genes from macaque monkeys, scientists are hoping that soon they will find the key viral components to trigger human T-cells and produce an effective HIV cure. Cats, however, are already enjoying the benefits of good science, since vaccines for FIV are already on the market.
Written by Mandy Gardner