Getting HIV’s Tubes Tied

Despite what South Park may say, the cure for AIDS and HIV is not money, even if it is pulverized and injected directly into the blood stream.

Today, the most common and effective treatment for HIV is to take a Molotov cocktail of antiretroviral drugs that attack the virus at various stages of its life cycle. There are a lot out there to choose from, and finding the combination that works best for each individual is a tricky business rife with the dangers of side effects.

I would imagine suffering through some serious side effects time and time again until you finally find a combination that works would be pretty miserable.

However, no matter how well these drugs work, they are no substitute for a cure. Naturally, there are a shit ton of doctors out there working on the problem. Even though HIV is a small virus with only a tiny amount of genetic material in its own genome, there are still a lot of complicated interactions to study. HIV has about 10,000 times less DNA than that of the human genome and fewer than 20 proteins, in contrast to a human’s cells that may include thousands. Once inside a human cell, however, the virus uses the cell’s molecular machinery to hijack the function of many human proteins, shut down others and subvert still more. Understanding how HIV works within human cells and devising ways to block it are essential to developing new drugs to treat people with HIV/AIDS and ultimately eradicate this disease.

So it’s basically a game of educated guesses. Scientists think they might have a clue as to which protein and which interaction might be essential for the virus to live on. But there are no guarantees.

However, in a paper recently published in Nature, Reuben Harris thinks he may have hit the jackpot. The paper details the interaction between an HIV protein known Vif hijacks a human protein called CBF-beta and uses it to slow down the body’s natural defenses. The exciting part is that the study showed that if Vif can’t get CBF-beta, it can’t block the body’s defenses, and it gets a beat down.

The result is that it can’t procreate fast enough to survive.

Now that scientists have identified this potential avenue for treatment, there’s only the small matter of devising a molecule that stops the hijacking, bringing it through animal trials, testing it on live patients and getting FDA approval. This is all completely necessary and I’m glad that we do it, of course, but still… don’t look for this to come to fruition in this decade.

Oh the joys of laborious research.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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