HIV's Achilles Heel Discovered? genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Little Red Ribbon-Hood


Over the years, I've grown accustomed to regularly reading about the latest findings in HIV research. Early on, it was the only glimmer of hope in the environment of certain death that surrounded the disease. In recent years, the findings have enabled those infected to live relatively normal lives...albeit still vulnerable to the clandestine efforts of a clever virus.

Every now and then, I come across a study or a piece of research that titillates my hopes that science is on the verge of defeating the disease. A new article at Science Daily is just that. Yes, I'm always excited to read about the success of a drug still in trials or the discovery of a compound that shows great treatment potential. Unfortunately, such findings rarely offer the kind of hope found in this latest discovery.

According to this new report, a group of scientists believe they have found a site on the virus that offers the potential to permanently disable the virus in the body...rendering it incapable of infecting the cells of its host. Were that possible, the ramifications are mind boggling.

The Achilles heel, a tiny stretch of amino acids numbered 421-433 on gp120, is now under study as a target for therapeutic intervention. Sudhir Paul, Ph.D., pathology professor in the UT Medical School, said, "Unlike the changeable regions of its envelope, HIV needs at least one region that must remain constant to attach to cells. If this region changes, HIV cannot infect cells. Equally important, HIV does not want this constant region to provoke the body's defense system. So, HIV uses the same constant cellular attachment site to silence B lymphocytes - the antibody producing cells. The result is that the body is fooled into making abundant antibodies to the changeable regions of HIV but not to its cellular attachment site.

Paul's group has engineered antibodies with enzymatic activity, also known as abzymes, which can attack the Achilles heel of the virus in a precise way. "The abzymes recognize essentially all of the diverse HIV forms found across the world. This solves the problem of HIV changeability. The next step is to confirm our theory in human clinical trials," Paul said.

Unlike regular antibodies, abzymes degrade the virus permanently. A single abzyme molecule inactivates thousands of virus particles. Regular antibodies inactivate only one virus particle, and their anti-viral HIV effect is weaker.

"The work of Dr. Paul's group is highly innovative. They have identified antibodies that, instead of passively binding to the target molecule, are able to fragment it and destroy its function. Their recent work indicates that naturally occurring catalytic antibodies, particularly those of the IgA subtype, may be useful in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection," said Steven J. Norris, Ph.D., holder of the Robert Greer Professorship in the Biomedical Sciences and vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UT Medical School at Houston.

While this research is still in its infancy, it is an indication of the cumulative benefit that can emerge as a result of prior studies of the virus and its function. Optimistic though it may be, I suspect that progress of this nature will at some point, in the near future, begin to dismantle the advantage the virus has held for nearly three decades. I would equate this protracted battle to defeat HIV with one of my favorite expressions, "Everything is shit until it isn't."

In other words, our perceptions can be inaccurate due to a reliance upon past history. Regardless, the ongoing absence of a definitive victory over the virus doesn't preclude the fact that one may be just around the corner. While projections are typically based upon prior experience (appropriately), probability tells us that time and research are apt to eventually close the knowledge gap and reveal a major finding capable of overcoming the advantage the virus has long held.

History is filled with examples of this phenomenon of unrevealed progress just waiting for that critical moment of substantiation. This discovery could be such a transformative moment. Let's hope so.

Tagged as: Abzymes, AIDS, Disease, Gay, Health, HIV, LGBT, Research, Science, Science Daily, Virus

Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2008 | 1:32 PM
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