Scientists find way to "disarm" AIDS virus
By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists have found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system and say their discovery may offer a new approach to developing a vaccine against AIDS.
Researchers from the United States and Europe working in laboratories on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) found it is unable to damage the immune system if cholesterol is removed from the virus's membrane.
"It's like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognise it and attack it," said Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London, who led the study.
The team now plans to investigate how to use this way of inactivating the virus and possibly develop it into a vaccine.
Usually when a person becomes infected with HIV, the body's innate immune response puts up an immediate defence. But some researchers believe HIV causes the innate immune system to overreact. This weakens the immune system's next line of defence, known as the adaptive immune response.
For this study -- published on Monday in the journal Blood -- Boasso's team removed cholesterol from the membrane around the virus and found that this stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. This in turn led to a stronger adaptive response, orchestrated by a type of immune cells called T cells.
AIDS kills around 1.8 million people a year worldwide. An estimated 2.6 million people caught HIV in 2009, and 33.3 million people are living with the virus.
Major producers of current HIV drugs include Gilead Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. Continued...