A new study published this month in the journal Human Gene Therapy has shown that a modified protein from the HIV virus itself could someday be used to prevent AIDS.
“This is like fighting fire with fire,” said David Harrich, co-author of the study and an associate professor at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research’s (QIMR) Molecular Virology Laboratory. “If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are a many hurdles to clear, we’re looking at a cure for AIDS.”
Harrich runs the only research laboratory in Queensland that works with the HIV virus. The protein he and his colleagues discovered, named “Nullbasic,” was formed by mutating an existing HIV protein over many generations. The researchers are confident enough in their findings that animal trials are set to begin this year.
Patients infected with the HIV virus currently take large doses of expensive drugs to subdue the virus. “Nullbasic” treatments wouldn’t eliminate HIV from patients’ bodies but, according to Harrich, it could significantly reduce the cost of treatment for HIV.
“I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time,” said Harrich. “You would still be infected with HIV, it’s not a cure for the virus. But the virus would stay latent, it wouldn’t wake up, so it wouldn’t develop into AIDS. With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system.”
Harrich has been studying HIV since the early 1980s, when the very first cases of AIDS began to be diagnosed. He began as a research assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
“I’ve come close to giving up in the past,” said Harrich. “But today I’m so encouraged. I feel very fortunate because not a lot of scientists are able to stay in the same game long enough to see these sorts of developments.
The video below was released by QIMR. It features Harrich discussing his team’s “Nullbasic” findings.