It is estimated that over 35 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV. The virus attacks and destroys our immune system resulting in AIDS, in its final stages. HIV weakens the immune system by destroying T-helper cells, which are a type of white blood cell. It then duplicates itself, and break down the cells completely over time. This limits the ability of those infected to fight off diseases and infections. The speed at which the virus progresses is determined by the individual’s age and health. For most people, if HIV is left untreated for 10 to 15 years it collapses the immune system. This results in an inability to fight off any infection, and inevitably death.
A significant amount of research has gone into ways in which HIV can be stopped before it begins to multiply, thus preventing it from breaking down the immune system. A study was recently conducted at Loyola University in Chicago, which suggests that this might be possible. Results were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and showed a method which would incorporate the microtubule tracks through which the virus travels and a protein called bicaudal D2.
HIV moves through the body so quickly that the immune system doesn’t have enough time to react to its presence. The virus uses microtubules, and attaches to bicaudal D2, to transport itself to the nucleuses of the T-helpers. If the protein is missing the virus cannot find its way to the nucleus. The researchers suggested stranding the virus by creating a drug which prevents it from attaching to the bicaudal D2. It would remain in the cytoplasm, which is filled with other proteins and mitochondria. Due to its small size, in comparison to these surrounding elements, the virus could not navigate to the nucleus.
The scientists believe that this method will be essential in the creation of future treatments for HIV, and possibly coming up with a cure. Each patient reacts differently to current treatment options, which researchers are hoping to use alongside the bicaudal D2 detachment method to inhibit the progress of the virus. More experiments need to be conducted to ensure that any drug made using this process would be safe, as well as compatible with other HIV treatments. Some of the methods currently being used include: antibodies which can kill up to 99% of HIV strains, and a vaccine by Johnson and Johnson which is being tested in Africa. The vaccine would prevent those exposed from getting the virus, to begin with.