Gene Could Stop Progression of HIV, Study Finds
The human gene TRIM22 could be used to stop the progression of HIV in people living with the virus, according to a study published Thursday in PLoS Pathogens, the Edmonton Sun reports. The gene fights viruses in humans but is not effective in HIV-positive people, according to the Sun.
Stephen Barr, a researcher in the department of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, conducted laboratory tests and determined that TRIM22 prevented HIV from replicating and locked the virus in a single cell when added to cell cultures that had been infected with the virus. "This gene works particularly at preventing the virus from getting out of cells," Barr said, adding that TRIM22 cannot "stop the virus from getting in (to the cell) but it can lock it in so it can't get out" (Crush, Edmonton Sun, 2/28).
According to the CNS/Winnipeg Free Press, other researchers have discovered proteins that block HIV in the early stages of the virus, but HIV has adapted to overcome the proteins. TRIM22 is the only gene scientists have found so far that is successful in containing the virus at advanced stages of the disease (Sinnema, CNS/Winnipeg Free Press, 2/29).
The technique has not yet been tested in humans so it is unclear whether it would be successful, Barr said. He added that it is possible the gene could trap the virus within a cell and trigger other defense mechanisms aimed at destroying the virus. It also is possible that researchers will be able to develop new treatments that mimic TRIM22. "If we include TRIM22 in our therapies, it can be used in combination with drugs to make them more effective at blocking and killing the virus," Barr said. Barr emphasized that research involving TRIM22 is in its "infancy" and that the next steps are to determine "how the virus is interacting" with the gene and whether the virus has the ability to kill the gene (Edmonton Sun, 2/28).
Barr said he hopes the research "will lead to the design of new drugs and/or vaccines that can halt the person-to-person transmission of HIV and the spread of the virus in the body, thereby blocking the onset of AIDS." He added that it could be decades before scientists make any potential developments involving TRIM22 (Xinhua/People's Daily, 2/29).
Debra Jakubec, executive director of HIV Edmonton, called Barr's research "exciting" but said it is not a cure for the virus. "If something does come out [of the research] that's a preventive vaccine, we would still want people to know just how effective it is and still practice safer sex," Jakubec said (Edmonton Sun, 2/28).