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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 18, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 3
An HIV breakthrough? - Virus can be prevented from replicating, new study says
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An HIV breakthrough? - Virus can be prevented from replicating, new study says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An Australian scientist announced January 16 that he had discovered a way to prevent HIV from replicating.

In an article published in the journal Human Gene Therapy, David Harrich of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research said he had successfully modified a protein in HIV that the virus needs to reproduce itself, and instead made it 'potently' inhibit virus growth.

'I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time,' said Harrich.

'If this research continues down its strong path - and bear in mind there are many hurdles to clear - we're looking at a cure for AIDS.'

'FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE'
Harrich said the modified protein, which he had named Nullbasic, had shown a 'remarkable' ability to arrest HIV growth in a lab environment and could have exciting implications both in curbing AIDS and treating existing HIV patients.

He described it as 'fighting fire with fire.'

'The virus might infect a cell but it wouldn't spread,' Harrich explained.

'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,' he added. 'With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system.'

Lab trials of the protein are due to start this year, but any treatment using it is likely some years away.

POTENTIAL GAME-CHANGER
If the protein Harrich identified could effectively prevent reproduction of HIV, it could spell an end to onerous multiple drug regimes for HIV patients, meaning better quality of life and lower costs to individual patients and government programs.

'In that respect, this is a world-first agent that's able to stop HIV with a single agent at multiple steps of the virus lifecycle,' Harrich told ABC Radio.

'You either have to eliminate the virus infection or, alternatively, you have to eliminate the disease process and that's what this could do, potentially for a very long time.'

34 MILLION NOW INFECTED
According to the latest U.N. figures, the number of people infected by HIV worldwide rose to 34 million in 2011 from 33.5 million in 2010.

The vast majority (23.5 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa, with another 4.2 million in South and Southeast Asia.

There were 1.7 million deaths from AIDS-related causes worldwide in 2011 - 24 percent fewer than in 2005 and nearly six percent below the 2010 level.

New HIV infections have at least halved in 25 low- and middle-income countries, many in hard-hit Africa, over the past decade, with particular progress made toward protecting children from the deadly virus.

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