An international team of researchers has discovered a natural defence against HIV. Michigan State University’s team’s discovery focuses on ERManI, a protein that prevents the HIV virus from replicating.
Co-author Yong-Hui Zheng said that in earlier studies, they knew that they could interfere with the spread of HIV-1, but they couldn’t identify the mechanism that was stopping the process. They now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as a antiretroviral treatment.
Antiretroviral treatments are not vaccines; they simply keep HIV in check in low levels in the body. 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, said Zheng.
More than 1.2 million people in the United States have HIV. In China, doctors diagnosed 104,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS in 2014. The number of infections is rising, though overall the country still has a low rate of infection.
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.
The study appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.