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HIV breakthrough hope

Thursday November 7th, 2013

British scientists may have found the "invisibility cloak" that allows the HIV virus to evade the human immune system, it was announced last night.

The scientists say an experimental drug can be used to "uncloak" the virus.

Stripping away the invisibility cloak would allow the immune system to destroy it - and laboratory tests say this could happen, according to the researchers.

The breakthrough, announced in the journal Nature, was led by researchers backed by the Wellcome Trust at University College London, UK.

HIV infects the human immune system and is able to do so without any reaction.

The researchers say they have find two molecules found inside human cells that are recruited by the virus. This delays replication of the virus - preventing the immune system's alarm system being triggered.

They report that a drug based on the anti-transplant rejection drug Cyclosporine could block this effect - and might do so without harming the immune system.

Researcher Professor Greg Towers said: "HIV is extremely adept at hiding from our body's natural defences, which is part of the reason the virus is so dangerous. Now we've identified the virus' invisibility cloak, and how to expose it, we've uncovered a weakness that could be exploited for new HIV treatments.

"There's a great deal more research needed but the potential for this approach is huge, as a possible treatment in itself but also as a complement to existing therapies.

"The hope is that one day we may be able develop a treatment that helps the body to clear the virus before the infection is able to take hold."

Dr Kevin Moses, of the Wellcome Trust, welcomed the findings.

He said: "In 2012, 2.3 million people were newly infected with HIV. Whilst existing treatments are helping people with HIV to live longer and healthier lives, the challenge of adherence to treatment programmes means that drug resistance remains a threat and the virus continues to burden the world's poorest communities.

"Understanding how HIV interacts with the body's own defences might just be crucial for developing the best approaches to therapy."

Rasaiyaah J et al. HIV-1 evades innate immune recognition through specific co-factor recruitment. Nature 6 November 2013.

Tags: Flu & Viruses | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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