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Scientists at Loyola University in Illinois have recently zeroed in on the identity of six crucial amino acids in an immune defense protein that have long been known to protect against AIDS in monkeys, but have not been protective in people.

Scientists to create a new AIDS drug

The ability to activate these six amino acids may enable scientists to create a new AIDS drug that does not kill the virus, but covers it in a molecular straitjacket that prevents it from ever causing symptoms. The way this protein works is through a process called innate immunity.

Innate immunity is an immune defense mechanism that is not "pre-coded" to fight a specific infection, but generally able to recognize invading microorganisms as foreign bodies. When these foreign bodies are viruses, innate immunity does not launch the classic immune reactions that destroy healthy cells to deprive the virus of its home. Innate immunity simply "switches off" the viral RNA or DNA so it can't use the cells resources to multiply itself.

Deactivated viruses can actually be passed down through generations of human hosts, innate immunity keeping them inactive, but never getting rid of them. There are at least two different sets of genes in mice, in rhesus monkeys, and in humans that confer innate immunity, TRIM5a being one of them.

TRIM5A doesn't stop HIV from entering a cell, but once it arrives, it instructs the cell in how to build a wall of protein around the virus. The virus doesn't die (although it's arguable that it's not alive, either), but it is not able to use the cell's protein-making machinery to replicate itself. Since it does not demand the cell's resources, the immune system does not destroy the host cell--and most of the devastation of AIDS is only triggered by HIV, but actually accomplished by the immune system itself.

The 6 amino acids different in the protein to protects against the progression of HIV to AIDS

Until the recent discovery, scientists knew that TRIM5A could neutralize HIV in rhesus monkeys, but they had found no evidence that this protein could neutralize HIV in human beings. Now they know the six amino acids that different in the protein that protects against the progression of HIV to AIDS. These amino acids are used to make a "spry" protein that is the critical piece of the defensive puzzle against AIDS.

Although this new research is important and promising, it is not quite yet a cure for HIV or AIDS. The Loyola University scientists speculate that they may be able to create a small, easily administered protein molecule that when acting with human TRIM5A quite likely will provide the missing link in AIDS protection. Right now, the scientists know what that protein will be, but there are also issues of manufacturing it, formulating it in a way that can be taken as a pill and survive digestion or administered by injection and reach the interiors of the cells that need it.

There may also be unexpected effects of such a drug on the innate immunity needed to fight other kinds of infection, and testing on animals, and then on a small number of people, and then on a larger number of people, will be required before the drug is available for widespread distribution. This development, however, is the first time in AIDS research that scientists believe they have a simple way to stop the virus without destroying it or the healthy tissues of the human AIDS patients who need the drug.


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