Modification of HIV Protein Could Potentially Cure AIDS

A recent medical break-through has Australian scientists excited about potentially curing AIDS. Researches at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, led by David Harrich, have developed a form of gene therapy called Nullbasic that turns the virus against itself in a way that will stop it from replicating, according to the Australian Times.

AT's Paul Bleakley explains in his report:

By modifying the proteins that make up HIV into a mutated form, Harrich’s research team have determined that it is possible to block the process of reverse transcription that allows HIV to damage the immune system. This would ultimately render the virus inert, preventing the condition of those infected with HIV from deteriorating further.

Technically speaking, Harrich admits that the treatment would not "cure" HIV, meaning that it wouldn't eliminate it altogether (though that is, he says, the goal of many scientists working on the virus). What it does is make the virus latent; it wouldn't wake up and cause any damage, "It wouldn't turn into AIDS," he said. "With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system."

Harrich's team's discovery came just before they were about to lose their funding, he told the Times. He told one of his PhD students to try just one more experiment in 2007 to see if Nullbasic would actually work in rendering HIV non-infectious. "The student came back and said it worked, so I told him to do it again and again and again. It works every time.”

After that, the project was back on and they received funding from the Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis Research. "Subsequently," Harrich told the Times, "we have protected primary human CD lymphocytes from blood from HIV infection using a gene therapy approach with outstanding results.”

He says it's like fighting fire with fire.

There is still a few years ahead before the treatment will be tested on humans. Harrich, however, is unfazed. Having studied HIV for nearly thirty years, he said, "[S]cience is 99.9 per cent failure and you just keep your eyes open for the unusual event that something works really well... the whole lab is very very excited. We're all optimistic that we're on to something and everybody's working really hard right now."

After the initial trials on "humanized mice," he and his team will need a lot more money to take it to the next steps that involve testing it on humans, which would require millions of dollars.

When asked what he would say to someone living with HIV, who might have heard news like this before and have been disappointed, he said, "We're hoping that in the future, we're hopi and there's no guarantee, that we can offer a replacement for antiretroviral therapy, but it's going to take time. All our preliminary  experiments say that were on to something that has a [good] chance, but it's not a one-hundred percent chance, so you just have to hang in there with us and we'll let everybody know if this works."

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