Monkey-cell protein may cure HIV

Scientists have identified a protein in monkeys that blocks the replication of the HIV virus that causes AIDS and could provide a new method to stop the deadly infection in humans.

Although a similar protein in people is less potent than it is in monkeys, researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts said it could be a potential new weapon against the illness that afflicts 40 million people worldwide.

"The discovery is important not only because there is a new way to intervene in HIV infection but there is also a sense that we have suddenly got some insight into a potential role for what have previously been very mysterious cell components," Dr Joseph Sodroski said in an interview Wednesday, inform &to=' target=_blank>Reuters

A monkey protein could provide the key to blocking transmission of HIV and other viruses, according to a Harvard study. Up to 900,000 people are living with HIV in the United States, with another 40,000 HIV infections reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida ranks second after New York in both AIDS and HIV cases. Development and testing of such drugs, vaccines or other protective agents could take 10 years or more, Sodroski said. But modern protocols sometimes shorten that by bypassing animal trials and going straight to humans.

In fact, he said, human cells injected with the monkey protein in lab dishes developed strong resistance to HIV.

HIV infects humans by entering a healthy cell, then hijacking its "factory" for making proteins. It orders the machinery to churn out proteins to make new copies of HIV, which then leave to infect other cells, reports &to=' target=_blank>

The entire process of discovering the protective protein was done using genetically engineered human and monkey cells grown in a laboratory. Using a complex screening process to examine hundreds of genes, the scientists narrowed their search to a monkey gene dubbed TRIM5-alpha. It produces the TRIM5 protein, one of a family of proteins that float inside the watery cytoplasm of a living cell. The discovery also demonstrates how basic research is slowly revealing the details of exactly how the AIDS virus operates, and how various defenses can be arrayed against it.

"This teaches us more about the hard-wired mechanisms of the immune system that allow cells to fight back against viruses," said Dr. Warner Greene, of UCSF's Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology.

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