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Fighting fire with fire: Researchers battle AIDS with HIV

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Researchers in Australia call it "fighting fire with fire." They claim they have found a way to use the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to prevent AIDS. The idea is a radical one, as HIV has up until know been known as "the virus that causes AIDS."

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Queensland Institute of Medical Research's senior researcher David Harrich says he has designed a way to modify a protein in HIV to alter the virus so that it provides long-lasting, and possibly permanent, protection against AIDS.

Harrich in his experiments altered a protein that is a critical component of all living cells. These include many substances. Among them are antibodies and hormones, which would usually help the virus to grow. Instead, the modified protein helps to prevent the virus from replicating or spreading.

Undergoing this therapy, patients would still be infected with HIV, said Harrich -- but it would not develop into AIDS.

"This therapy is potentially a cure for AIDS. So it's not a cure for HIV infection, but it potentially could end the disease. [That's] because the immune system that protects you from opportunistic infections that normally is the cause of AIDS is actually the opportunistic infection, not the HIV, because your immune system becomes run down," Harrich explains.

"So this protein present in immune cells would help to maintain a healthy immune system so that patients would be able to handle normal infections."

Using tests conducted in the laboratory, thorough testing on animals is needed before any human trials can begin, due to start later this year.

More than 30,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Australia. Without extensive protease drug therapy, their condition will develop into AIDS. According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2011. It's estimated that 1.7 million people died that year from the virus.

"I think what people are looking for is basically a means to go on and live happy and productive lives with as little intrusion as possible." Harrich says.

"And so, you know, the only way you can do that is one, 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."

Using a therapy based on a single protein could end multiple drug regimes for HIV patients. At the beginning of protease therapy for HIV patients as many as 20-plus were required daily to battle the condition. Many HIV patients say their drug intake has been lessened to as little as four a day. If the new therapy is successful, it will lead to a better quality of life for patients at substantial savings.

However, scientists say that creating a drug that turns HIV against itself would be challenging and Australian researchers conceded that there were still "many hurdles to clear."

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