Writing the news in the year 2017 is a devastating proposition most of the time. However, now and then a story comes along that is simply a joy to write, and today is one of those days.
Scientists have finally discovered a way to put the brakes on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) before it can infect patients.
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HIV eventually turns infectious in the human body and turns into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is responsible for 35 million deaths around the globe since its discovery, and it’s infected 75 million.
Researchers have been hard at work trying to find a cure for this currently incurable disease.
This new study brings real hope that one day HIV and AIDS might disappear forever as a threat. As it stands, this is still excellent news for the millions of patients with HIV worldwide. They know that now their HIV can be stopped in its tracks long before it turns into full-blown AIDS.
So how did they do it, and what exactly did they figure out?
First a little background. The researchers came from several different backgrounds and worked for seven years conducting studies on the lifecycle of the HIV. They studied the virus in all its various stages. The virus itself has several stages that it goes through before infecting the patient with full-blown AIDS.
Researchers found that in the developing virus, proteins were growing in the body of the virus itself. Researchers termed the master protein (or building block) in HIV the “Gag.” Other proteins get essentially “cleaved” from the Gag. They had finally found those, but the final evolution from being noninfectious (HIV) to infectious (AIDS) was still a mystery.
Tatyana Polenova, a professor at the University of Delaware in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry said:
“People use to be fixated on the static structure of viruses, but they are not rock solid. Viruses like HIV and their constituent protein and nucleic acid molecules are dynamic entities that are constantly expanding and shrinking, their motions are like breathing.”
Using cutting-edge technology called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) they were able to look at each atom in the structure (virus) and exactly how it moves around. The NMR is what enabled them to pinpoint a major peptide called spacer peptide 1 (SP1), (a peptide is a small chain of amino acid molecules) and they noticed something they had not expected.
They found that SP1 needed to be very mobile at the final stage of HIV for it to become infectious. If SP1 never became mobile, the enzyme that acted as a cleaver and caused the infection could never get a foothold, effectively halting HIV from becoming AIDS.
“This peptide is always there in the final maturation step, but we were surprised that it is so disordered and dynamic.”
Now that researchers know precisely how SP1 works to become infectious, the next step is figuring out how to prevent it from happening. They have found that a popular HIV inhibitor called Bevirimat can and does interact with SP1 and halt infections from occurring. However, they have not yet created an administrable drug that works all the time.
“We have to have a sense of these short-lived molecular fluctuations and processes — of protein cleavage and capsid generation. To add a new generation of capsid inhibitors to prevent HIV, you have to have very specific times and rates at which these drugs will work,” said Juan Perilla, an assistant professor at University of Delaware.
One thing is for sure; this breakthrough brings every human on the planet one massive step closer to being able to halt AIDS altogether and stop this horrible disease from taking any more lives.
Feature Image via Pixabay.