Humans Have Anti-HIV Gene
Sunday, 14 July, 2002, 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
HIV is developing resistance to current drugs
These are very significant findings and could open the door to new treatments
Professor Michael Malim
Humans possess a gene which acts as a defence against infection by HIV, scientists have found.
They hope the discovery could lead to new treatments for HIV and Aids - badly needed as current medications become increasingly impotent.
Scientists found that the HIV virus would interfere with the normal operation of the gene - called CEM15 - by producing a protein called Vif.
But they found that once this protein had been removed from the HIV virus, the CEM15 gene was able to effectively stop the HIV virus from replicating.
The study was carried out by Professor Michael Malim at King's College London, and a team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
They said scientists had already known that Vif plays an essential part in ensuring HIV replication, but before now its precise functions had been unclear.
Professor Malim said: "These are very significant findings and could open the door to new treatments for HIV/Aids in the future.
"If we can find a way to block the action of Vif, it would allow CEM15 to work properly and prevent HIV from spreading."
When a virus such as HIV infects a cell, it basically hijacks the cell's entire biochemical machinery, turning it into a factory that churns out new viruses.
These viruses then go on to infect and kill other cells and so the cycle continues.
Future research will focus on identifying substances that can block the action of the Vif protein.
Current treatments for HIV involve using a combination of drugs to target separate elements in the virus's life cycle.
However, these drugs do not lead to the total disappearance of the virus.
HIV has also developed resistance to the drugs in about half of patients.
Professor Malim hopes that his work will lead to new treatments in the next ten years.
Mark Graver, from the HIV charity The Terrence Higgins Trust, told BBC News Online: "This discovery could be an important step forward in increasing treatment options for people with HIV.
"We are now seeing increasing instances of people developing resistance to one or more of the drug regimes currently available to treat HIV, and it is vital that we continue working to stay one step ahead of the virus."
The research is published on the online version of the journal Nature.