Scientists Track Progression of HIV to AIDS, Study Says
Scientists from the University of Florida College of Medicine have tracked how HIV progresses to AIDS -- a finding that could lead to the development of new drugs that target the virus before it can progress -- according to a study published online recently in PLoS One, ANI/DailyIndia.com reports.
Researchers led by Marco Salemi -- an assistant professor of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at UFCM -- tracked four children who were HIV-positive at birth. All of the children had taken minimal medication and developed AIDS by age one. The researchers studied blood samples taken from the children at birth, throughout their lives and after their deaths. Tissue samples also were taken at the time of death, ANI/DailyIndia.com reports.
Using a high-resolution computer technique, the researchers examined the blood and tissue samples to monitor mutations in a protein that enables the virus to attach to human cells. The researchers then categorized the virus into two groups -- R5 and X4. R5 typically is present during the early stages of infection with HIV, and X4 is present just before HIV progresses to AIDS, according to ANI/DailyIndia.com. The researchers then tracked the virus in each child to determine when and why X4 appeared.
The study found that most HIV viral changes occur in the thymus -- an organ responsible for immune cell development that is located behind the breastbone. In addition, the study found that HIV progressed similarly in each child, regardless of his or her medical history. The researchers next plan to track HIV progression in adults before and after beginning treatment with antiretroviral drugs. The researchers hope that their findings lead to new drugs that hinder the virus' ability to evolve in the thymus, according to ANI/DailyIndia.com.
If scientists could "understand the selective pressures" that lead X4 to develop, as well as the "steps involved in the conversion of viruses, then we might be able to set up new targets for drug development," Maureen Goodenow, a study senior author and HIV/AIDS researcher at UFCM, said. Goodenow added the study increases the possibility that the "evolutionary track" of HIV is "not totally random."
Oliver Pybus, a zoology research fellow at University of Oxford, said the study is "excellent." He added, "For the first time, it shows how the movement of immune cells with the body is linked to the evolutionary behavior of the virus, which in turn determines the clinical outcome of infection" (ANI/DailyIndia.com, 10/17).