Researchers Discover Genetic ‘Weak Link’ in HIV Replication Process That Could Serve as New Target for Drug Development
In what may be "one of the most significant pieces of good news" in HIV/AIDS research in "several years," researchers report that they have isolated two genes -- one in HIV and one in human DNA -- that taken together may be a "weak link" in the HIV replication and infection process, Newsday reports. Researchers Dr. Michael Malim of St. Thomas' School of Medicine at Kings College in London and Dr. Ann Sheehy of the University of Pennsylvania report in the journal Nature on the HIV gene vif, which, when missing or present in a defective version, renders the virus incapable of infecting other cells, and a human gene called CEM-15, which acts as a natural "anti-HIV switch." Typically, active vif "stifles" CEM-15, allowing the virus to replicate and infect other cells. With a damaged version of vif or a total lack of the gene, HIV is able to replicate, but its progeny are unable to exit the cell in which they were born and are thus unable to infect other cells, halting its spread (Garrett, Newsday, 7/15). "These are very significant findings and could open the door to new treatments for HIV/AIDS in the future. If we can find a way to block the action of vif, it would allow CEM-15 to work properly and prevent HIV from spreading," Malim said (BBC News7/14). He added, "It's very ambitious, but we may see vif developed as a new target for therapy in the next 10 years" (Radowitz, London Independent, 7/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.