Monday, October 3, 2011

Scientists have found a way to prevent HIV

by Waldirene Biernath

Source photos: Google image
Researchers from the United States and Europe have found the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is unable to damage the immune system if cholesterol is removed from the virus's membrane. The study was published last month in the journal Blood.

The team plans to investigate how to use this way of inactivating the virus and possibly develop it into a vaccine.

Cell model for
  human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Usually when a person becomes infected with HIV, the body's innate immune response puts up an immediate defense. But some researchers believe HIV causes the innate immune system to overreact. This weakens the immune system's next line of defense, known as the adaptive immune response. The team removed cholesterol from the membrane around the virus and found that this stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. This in turn led to a stronger adaptive response, orchestrated by a type of immune cells called T cells.

HIV takes its membrane from the cell that it infects, the researchers explained in their study. This membrane contains cholesterol, which helps keep it fluid and enables it to interact with particular types of cell.

Adriano Boasso, from Imperial College London, who led the study, said the virus could not activate pDC cells when cholesterol was removed.

Normally, a subset of immune cells called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) recognize HIV quickly and react by producing signaling molecules called interferons. These signals activate various processes which are initially helpful, but which damage the immune system if switched on for too long. 

Researchers believe the discovery could lead to the development of a vaccine against the disease, which kills 1.8 million people worldwide each year. An estimated 33.3 million people are living with the virus.

(to) damage (verb): to harm something physically so that it is broken, spoiled, or injured;
(to) put up (verb): to provide;
(to) overreact (verb): show an exaggerated response to something;
triggering (noun):  an act that sets in motion some course of events or causes something to happen;
subset (noun): a small group of people or things that is a part of a larger group;
(to) switched on (verb): if you switch on something such as a light or a machine, or if it switches on, you make it start working.


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