Using HIV to attack itself

January 21, 2013

HIV virus (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Associate Professor David Harrich has developed a way to use HIV to beat HIV in the laboratory.

He has determined how to modify a protein in the virus, creating the the “Nullbasic” protein, which provides strong, lasting protection from infection by stopping the virus from replicating in a lab environment. Animal trials are due to start this year.

“If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are a many hurdles to clear, we’re looking at a cure for AIDS,” he said. “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. With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system.”

The successful development of this type of one-off treatment would also have economic implications. HIV patients currently take a regime of drugs for the rest of their lives, which can be a significant financial burden.

Harrich has been researching HIV for thirty years, since starting as a research assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the early 1980s when the first cases of HIV/AIDS emerged.

The research is funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.