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December 1, 2011 at 9:07 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

A Radical Thought

By E.M. Wollof from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the A New Itch Blog Series

Like any time that someone says flea, the itch is back...let's get scratchin'.

Researchers in Canada recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $100,000 to fund their "radical" research on killing HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. While research in this field is obviously not new, the angle that these scientists are taking is definitely one not looked at before.

Lock and Key

They started by analyzing the goal of the virus, which is to, like any other, get into human cells and replicate itself. In order to do this, the virus has developed what is called a "key." This key attaches to a lock called CD4, which is a glycoprotein present on the surface of the well known T-cells. When this interaction occurs, the virus is firmly rooted in the human cell and, as we well know, is pretty much impossible to kill.

The researchers propose using a "trojan horse" method to prevent this lock and key interaction from happening by introducing their own lock into the mix. This lock will be composed of a toxin that will kill the virus and not allow it to take root in the human cells. When the virus attempts to make the interaction happen with these infected lock cells, the toxin will slowly enter into the virus and, coupled with the bodies natural white cell warriors, remove it from all infected cells.

Just like much of the other HIV research though, the main issue is with the collateral damage to the surrounding cells.

Cat and Mouse

Their research also involves boosting the immune system to prevent this entire lock and key process from happening as well. The researchers have found that the HIV virus has a unique adaptation in the human body that allows it to actually hide from the immune systems natural defenses in what are called "virus reservoirs," effectively shielding itself from any harm. This is why those diagnosed with HIV must remain on their treatments for the rest of their lives in order to slow the progress of the virus.

To combat this hide and seek mentality, researchers plan on using the remnants of an ancient virus DNA that is contained within 40 percent of all human chromosomes. This ancient virus is contained within 8% of our DNA and is a virus similar to HIV known as human endogenous retrovirus (HERV). Why this virus is still contained within our DNA remains a mystery, but when the HIV virus takes root, the proteins from the HERV virus begin to make themselves known.

The researchers plan to use those proteins from the HERV virus as a beacon to guide the way to where the HIV virus is hiding itself from the bodies natural defenses. That ability to snoop out the virus, coupled with the lock and key attack should, in theory, effectively eliminate the HIV virus from all cells in the body.

Without a doubt, ancient viruses and a wicked game of hide and seek add up to some pretty radical thoughts, but there can be no denying the impact that HIV has had on the world, radical may be the only route that proves effective.

See you next itch...

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