AIDS research making strides

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By Thomas Scott

It is hard to imagine a scourge worse than the AIDS virus. In the year 2011 alone, about 1.7 million lives were claimed by the disease.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope. Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine located in St. Louis, Mo. made a critical step toward eventually curing AIDS.

The researchers implemented a naturally occurring toxin that is commonly found in bee stings called melittin.

According to an official press release from the University: “Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed.”

According to the report, the research will eventually culminate in an attempt “toward developing a vaginal gel that may prevent the spread of HIV.”

Apparently melittin “can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV” without causing any harm to normal cells.

Joshua L. Hood, who the report describes as “a research instructor in medicine,” led the effort and devised an ingenious solution to prevent collateral damage to regular cells.

Hood “added protective bumpers to the nanoparticle surface.’”

So if “the nanoparticles come into contact with normal cells, which are much larger in size, the particles simply bounce off.”

However, this merely addresses AIDS, not HIV, which causes AIDS. Allegedly, HIV “is even smaller than the nanoparticle” such that the retrovirus “fits between the bumpers and makes contact with the surface of the nanoparticle.”

From there, according to Hood, the toxin in “the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope.” This leads to “little pore-like attack complexes [which] ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus.”

By taking this angle, researchers have the advantage of what the report calls an “essential part of the virus’ structure.”

The current approach to treating the virus involves use of retroviral drugs which can prevent HIV from replicating. The down side to this mode of treatment is that nothing is done about preventing patients from getting infected in the first place.

What’s more, according to the report: “Some strains of the virus have found ways around these drugs and reproduce anyway.”

The key to the success of this method is that “there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt” claims Hood.

The report continued, stating that the AIDS “virus has to have a protective coat, a double-layered membrane that covers the virus” in order to become resistant to his approach.

The report also states that Hood thinks there is room for the creation of other forms of treatment “for existing HIV infections,” particularly “those that are drug-resistant.”

Such a therapy could manifest in the form of a medicine that “could be injected intravenously and… would be able to clear HIV from the blood stream,” the report claims.

The stage was set for this leap towards a cure several years ago according to Hood since the “basic particle that [researchers used] in these experiments was developed many years ago as an artificial blood product.”

Though the particle did not “work very well for delivering oxygen,” says Hood. It was  capable of circulating “safely in the body and gives [researchers] a nice platform” with which to build upon, asserts Hood.

If a treatment were to be created for the purpose of birth control, a “gel easily could be adapted to target sperm as well as HIV,” Hood states.

This could lead to a therapy for couples, especially those who wish to have children, where one person has the virus, but the other does not.

Researchers claim that “nanoparticles are easy to manufacture in large…quantities.”

Last week  in Mississippi, the newborn child of a woman infected with HIV was completely cured of AIDS. Doctors are reticent to call their treatment an outright cure, instead dubbing it a “functional cure.”

Doctors are optimistic that this development will lead to a therapy that will eradicate HIV in newborns and toddlers.

The infant was placed on a regimen of commonly available anti-HIV drugs, starting when she was only 30 hours old. By initiating treatment so early, doctors think they may have prevented the formation of dreaded viral reservoirs which complicate treatment and remain latent in a patient’s body. The baby’s mother did not receive prenatal care, so the child was born with traces of HIV in her own blood.

 

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