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Exploring the Latest Breakthroughs in HIV Research

JUL 19, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
Groundbreaking research has uncovered several possibilities to potentially cure HIV in patients receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), while a new drug was found to prohibit the virus from maturing, which would prevent viral infection of new cells.
 
For patients being treated for HIV, antiretroviral therapy can be life-changing. However, once treatment is stopped, dormant or latent cells infected with HIV can become reactivated. Previously, this made finding a cure for the disease nearly impossible; now, scientists from around the world have begun targeting these latent cells in their hunt for a cure.

Sugar-binding Protein as a Cure for HIV 

Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, PhD, staff scientist at Blood Systems Research Institute (BSRI), and associate specialist at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, along with his colleagues, previously identified the human genes which contributed to the latency of HIV-infected cells. As an extension of that research project, Dr. Abdel-Mohsen and his colleagues from BSRI, UCSF, and the University of Hawaii have found that the human sugar-binding protein galectin-9 can expose latent HIV-infected cells, and ‘poison’ the virus, through a “shock and kill” strategy: by reactivating the latent cells, the immune system is able to detect HIV within the body and target it. This is done through the manipulation of certain classes of sugars found on the surface of HIV-infected cells, which then emit a signal that exposes the latent cells.
 
In addition, the group discovered that galectin-9 increased the levels of “APOBEC3G,” an antiviral protein. This protein has the ability to destroy viral genetic code, including that of HIV, meaning that galectin-9 has the potential to cure HIV infections. Dr. Abdel-Mohsen commented on the findings in a recent press release, “There's been very little attention paid to how the sugar coating on the surface of human cells affects the fate of the virus that lies inside. This sugar coating may hold the key to new therapeutics that can be harnessed to cure HIV and possibly a range of other infectious diseases.”
 
Dr. Abdel-Mohsen and Satish Pillai, PhD, lead study researcher, associate investigator at BSRI, and associate director of UCSF-Gladstone Institute of Virology & Immunology Center for AIDS research, agree that galectin-9 may provide an alternative to lifelong antiretroviral therapy as a means of HIV treatment, and may provide a means for a cure. Dr. Pillai stated, “Our findings make us optimistic that future HIV treatments can eliminate all traces of the virus from the body.”

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