HIV’s Cure Is Within Grasp


HIV’s cure is within grasp at the Scripps Research Institute. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus which causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has killed 39 million people and continues to infect two million people per year. Although HIV and AIDS have been in and out of news cycles since the epidemic of the 80s, scientists believe they may finally be closer to finding a successful cure for the disease. The disease breaks down the immune system, and weakens it to the point that a simple cold could cause someone’s death.

There has been a variety of attempts to solve the HIV problem. One puzzle piece was finding out which proteins are most effective at supporting the immune system, and why some people make stronger proteins than others.

A HIV study, published in the journals Cell and Science and led by Michael Farzan from the Scripps Research institute, details the creation of a novel inhibitor in the form of a newly created molecule that blocks the virus. This inhibitor was inspired by, and utilizes, two proteins used by HIV to enter the cells. The new molecule has been successfully tested on monkeys, using gene therapy vector which allows monkeys to be injected with the molecule and then continue to create it naturally.

The hope for researchers on the team is that there will be testing of the molecule for three different types of uses. The first test will be to use the molecule as a protein therapeutic – meaning as a way to inhibit the further attack on the cells. In this scenario, the protein would have to be injected every few months. The second use of the therapy is to test HIV positive patients with gene therapy similarly to the one that was tested on the monkeys, and the goal is to lower the amount of drugs required until ultimately terminating the need for drugs to inhibit the virus. Lastly, the third use that researchers hope to test is as a vaccine, to protect individuals who are at high risk of contracting the virus. Each test of the protein for the different uses will require extreme quality control and safety research when it does enter phase one of human trials. No date has been set for the beginning of human trials for the protein.

Doctor Farzan is strongly optimistic about the effectiveness of the drug on divergent strands of the virus and that HIV’s cure is within grasp. At this time, this is the furthest that researchers have come to a cure or antidote for HIV. Other researchers such as Mark Harrington, of the policy and advocacy group Treatment Action Group, are cautiously optimistic since they are familiar with continuous disappointment. The challenge with HIV is that it is a very diverse virus, and it mutates rapidly in the body. In other words, researchers are aiming at a moving target.

HIV and AIDS research suffered a massive setback last July, when six world-famous researchers lost their lives in the Malaysian Airplane MH17 which crashed in Ukranian enemy territory. The researchers were travelling to the AIDS 2014 Conference in Melbourne. Among those who lost their lives was Joseph Marie Albert “Joep” Lange, former president of the International Aids Society. Finally, the cure for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus feels like it is within grasp; and, if this protein solves the epidemic or is key to solving the epidemic, all the previous giants in relevant research, present and departed will rejoice.

By Olivia Uribe-Mutal

Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen


Benchmark Reporter: Human anti-HIV vaccine not too far off after 3 studies

Wall Street Journal: Molecule Shows Ability to Block AIDS Virus

Science Direct: Introduction to current and future protein therapeutics: A protein engineering perspective

Smithsonian: Keeping you current This is Why Developing an HIV Vaccine is Really Hard Read

Image Courtesy of Jon Rawlinson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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