European and American researchers have found a way to ‘disarm’ the AIDS virus, keeping it from damaging the human immune system. Scientists say could put medical research on the fast track to developing a vaccine against AIDS.
Plans for a vaccine
The discovery revolves around removing cholesterol from the virus’s membrane, rendering it unable to damage the immune system.
This is because when a body become infected with HIV, the person’s innate immune response overreacts when trying to dispel it, leading to weakening in the body’s secondary defense structures, called the adaptive immune response.
Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London explained, “”HIV is very sneaky. It evades the host’s defenses by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. It’s like revving your car in first gear for too long — eventually the engine blows out.”
Scientists found the removal of cholesterol from the membrane around the virus stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. The result was a stronger adaptive response.
“It’s like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognize and attack it,” said Boasso about the virus after it had been deactivated.
The next step in the researchers’ plans is to find a way to use the inactive virus, and possibly develop a vaccine from the deactivating technique.
Global fight against AIDS
Each year, the AIDS virus kills approximately 1.8 million people around the world. Today, an estimated 33.3 million people are living with the virus. So far the billions of dollars in research from pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, and governments has yielded only limited success in race to “cure” AIDS.
A 2009 study in Thailand showed that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection, but the success rate proved to only be 30% and researchers were forced to rethink their experiments.
In the United States, an AIDS vaccine research team stated that they had successfully helped monkeys infected with AIDS control the virus for over a year. This happened in May of this year, and suggests that an AIDS vaccine for humans may be on the brink of discovery.