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New treatment outfoxes AIDS virus


Scientists have discovered a way to outfox the HIV/AIDS virus that may avoid the problems of drug resistance which limit current treatments.

The experts have been able to block HIV infection by inactivating a key human protein.

Most drugs used against HIV target the virus’s own proteins. But HIV mutates at such a high rate, modifying its genes, that drug resistant strains emerge quickly.

Strategies designed to outmanoeuvre the virus such as switching medications and prescribing multiple drugs can increase the risk of side effects and make life more difficult for the patient.

The new approach targets a protein produced by human cells rather than HIV, and is therefore impervious to the virus’s mutations.

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Researchers in the US found that inactivating the protein, known as ITK, suppressed HIV’s ability to infect key human immune cells.

ITK is a signalling molecule that activates T cells, part of the body’s immune system.

When HIV enters the body it enters T cells and takes them over. Instead of defending the body against invaders, the T cells now devote themselves to helping the HIV virus replicate.

But without active ITK, the virus cannot take advantage of the signalling pathways within T cells it needs to make this happen.

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Department of Health

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