HIV study examines special protein's effects on virus

November 5, 2010 4:27:15 PM PDT
Some people who have the HIV virus never get sick and never need any medicine. Scientists have been studying these rare patients to find out why. Scientists now believe is a genetic difference that keeps these HIV patients healthy.

Jereme Scott takes the medicine that keeps him healthy. He has been HIV positive for 27 years.

"In 1986, I figured I'd be dead in three years, like most of us in the early 80's," he said.

But Scott is alive because of effective new medicines, and he has taken care of himself. But not everyone lives as long as he has, and scientists have wondered why some people fight HIV better than others.

"For years, we've known that about one in 300 people have been able to suppress the virus without medicine," said Dr. Robin Hardwick, UT-Houston AIDS researcher.

Those infected with HIV and who never get sick and never take medicine are called "HIV controllers." A new international study published in the journal Science looked at the reasons why. Researchers, including Dr. Hardwick, found "controllers" have a special protein which has five amino acids.

"Those amino acids are helping to ward off the virus; it's helping to cleave the virus into that gene, into that protein so that the killer t-cells can then attack it," Dr. Hardwick said.

Hardwick says this finding could eventually lead to a better medicine or even an effective vaccine.

"It's is so exciting. I haven't been excited about any findings in HIV in a while," Dr. Hardwick said.

For Scott, the new research means hope for people newly diagnosed.

"I am so excited to be able to see some of that because I never thought in my lifetime I would see it," Scott said.

The study involved 300 scientists at 200 institutions. But the researchers say they have a long way to go before turning this finding into a treatment or a vaccine.


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