Wall Street Journal Spotlights Search For Natural HIV Inhibitor Carried by Certain Individuals
The Wall Street Journal yesterday profiled researchers' quest to identify the "mysterious substance" that is produced by the immune system in certain individuals and can inhibit HIV replication. Some AIDS researchers believe that only one such substance inhibits replication, while others speculate that there are several molecules involved. Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and the Institute of Human Virology are all investigating the characteristics of the inhibitory substance, which is believed to be a protein. The protein has several known traits: It is produced by CD8 T-cells; it prevents HIV from replicating but does not destroy cells infected with the virus; it is active in cell fluids for several days before losing potency; it adheres easily to other proteins; and it loses activity after several freezings. Scientists believe that HIV inhibitors could be developed into antiretroviral drugs if they are safe, effective and easily manufactured. In addition, identifying and isolating such substances could help researchers develop other drugs to fight HIV.
In order to conclusively identify the inhibitor, researchers must isolate each unknown protein to determine its amino acid sequence and find the corresponding gene that codes for the protein. To determine whether the protein inhibits HIV replication, researchers can either add it to cell cultures or splice the correlating gene directly into cells to observe its interaction with HIV. The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and the NIH have forged an agreement with Ciphergen Biosystems under which Ciphergen will analyze the characteristics of proteins taken from patient samples from the two labs. In return, Ciphergen would receive the exclusive commercial rights to any drug or diagnostic treatment that emerges from the research. But while Ciphergen has an advanced protein detection system, the Journal reports that the inhibitor's fragility will make it a difficult substance to study. Dr. Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology, said that he has already identified three inhibitors, "at least one of which appears to fit" the profile of the mysterious substance, the Journal reports. Gallo has not published these findings and has declined to discuss the work in detail, but he stated, "We're damn near having the whole thing (HIV resistance) explained, in my view." However, scientists such as Bruce Walker, an AIDS specialist at Harvard University who is also searching for inhibitors, say that the research could prove to be a "bust," as inhibitors may be "too weak to be of much use" in treating AIDS (Hamilton, Wall Street Journal, 4/18).