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HIV proteins could be target for new drugs

Brisbane scientists have made a breakthrough discovery which may lead to new treatment options for those suffering from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

QIMR researchers, as part of an international study, have found the missing piece of the puzzle as to how the virus successfully inhabits the human body.

Lead researcher, Dr David Harrich said this finding is a milestone in better understanding this devastating disease and could have great implications in how HIV is treated.

“Previously, it has been impossible to pinpoint how HIV has been able to make its genetic material once in the human body,” Dr Harrich said.

“Once inside the human body, HIV infections need help to do their job properly and we found a number of human cell proteins that allow the virus to make its DNA and invade our bodies.

“These proteins are a vital part of the HIV life cycle once a human becomes infected with the virus.”

Dr Harrich said HIV infections are overcoming treatments that are currently available to patients.

“HIV is at pandemic proportions, with African and Asian nations suffering greatly, and HIV strains are becoming increasingly resistant to treatments that are currently available,” Dr Harrich said.

“While new treatments based on this finding are some years away, our results give us a new target to focus on.

“A better understanding of how this virus uses proteins in the human body may also have applications for other infections, such as the West Nile virus.”

To carry out this study, QIMR collaborated with The University of Queensland, University of Western Sydney, the Burnet Institute, Queensland Health and Scientific Services, University of Edinburgh, Monash University and the Guangxi  Animal Centres for Disease Control, China.

The results of this study will be published in PNAS.

About HIV

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus which infects vital cells within the immune system and leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
  • The virus cripples the person’s immune system, making even the most common illnesses potentially life-threatening. HIV infection occurs through the transfer of body fluids, via sexual contact, blood transfusion, sharing of needles or through the placenta from mother to unborn child.
  • Globally, HIV/AIDS is now a pandemic and ranks as one of the largest killers of any infectious disease. More than 25 million people have now died from AIDS and there are 34 million infected with HIV (WHO, 2010).
  • There are currently around 21,000 Australians living with HIV. There are an estimated 1,000 new infections in Australia each year (National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research).

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