New York: Researchers have discovered a protein that may slow the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), thereby revealing a target for developing natural therapies against the deadly virus.
“In earlier studies, we knew that we could interfere with the spread of HIV-1, but we couldn’t identify the mechanism that was stopping the process,” said study co-author Yong-Hui Zheng, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University in the US.
The researchers found that the protein ERManI prevents the HIV virus from replicating.
“We now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as a antiretroviral treatment,” Zheng noted.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV-1. Once patients have it, they have it for life. While there are antiretroviral therapies available, they can only prolong life, albeit dramatically, but they cannot cure the disease.
Current drug treatments have to be taken for a lifetime, which causes side effects and many other issues, Zheng said.
“We see a way to treat this disease by helping the body protect itself,” he noted.
While it could be decades before an ERManI-based treatment can be prescribed for HIV-1 patients, these results provide a strong path for future research involving human cells, and later, clinical tests.
The next steps will be to test if HIV resistance can be promoted by increasing ERManI levels, Zheng pointed out.
The findings were detailed in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Although the news of a second person being cured of HIV through stem cell transplant is exciting and may pave the way for future treatments, experts say the treatment may not work in case of all patients infected with the AIDS causing virus.
“The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and weakens the immune system, reducing its ability to fight diseases or infections,” Girish Badarkhe, Haematologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru, told IANS.
“The stem cell transplant primarily involves reprogramming the immune system to be HIV-resistant. But there a small percentage of people who are naturally resistant to HIV infection due to rare genetic mutations known as CCR5-delta 32,” he stressed.
According to a study published in the journal Nature, a man in London, who prefers to remain anonymous, was treated with stem cell transplants from donors with CCR5-delta 32 mutation. It made him resistant to HIV, just like the first cured case of Timothy Ray Brown, better known as the “Berlin patient”, a decade ago.
The London man was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and was put on anti-retroviral therapy in 2012. He was later diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cancer of the immune system.
After undergoing chemotherapy, he underwent a stem cell transplant in 2016 and also continued with anti-retroviral drugs for 16 months.
He did not experience HIV rebound, during the 18 months he did not take anti-viral medication.
“While the development is exciting, it cannot be applied to a normal HIV patient who can be treated with the regular anti-retroviral drugs, as the London man was also suffering from cancer of the immune system,” Badarkhe said.
“Stem cell transplants are an established treatment, particularly for blood related cancer with 70 per cent success rate. “In this case, he got cured both from cancer as well as the AIDS,” Badarkhe said.
Globally, 36.9 million people were living with HIV in 2017. With an HIV prevalence of 0.26 per cent in the adult population, India has an estimated 2.1 million people with HIV, shows UNAIDS data.