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Researchers make strategic breakthrough in controlling AIDS virus


Montreal, QC – A team of researchers from the Universite de Montreal and the Centre hospitalier de l’Universite de Montreal (CHUM) say they have made a breakthrough in fighting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). They have identified a defect in the immune response to HIV and found a way to correct the flaw.

Dr Rafick-Pierre Skaly, a researcher in cell biology, immunology, and virology, has confirmed the identification of a new therapeutic target (the PD-1 protein) that restores the function of the T cells whose role is to eliminate cells infected with the virus. This constitutes a major breakthrough, opening new prospects for the development of therapeutic strategies for controlling HIV infection. The research findings appear in last weeks issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Dr Skaly explained that “immune system cells made non-functional by HIV can be identified by the presence of a protein that is significantly overexpressed when infected by the virus.” In fact, high levels of the protein are associated with a more serious dysfunction. “The most important discovery made in this study arises from the fact that by stimulating this protein, we succeeded in preventing the virus from making immune system cells dysfunctional,” he added.

The findings were simultaneously reproduced by two other laboratories – the labs headed by Dr Bruce Walker at Harvard and Dr Richard Koup at the NIH. “It’s a rare occurrence for three teams to work together on attacking a major problem. Up until now, the virus has been more or less invincible. By combining our efforts, we found the missing link that may enable us to defeat the virus,” noted Dr Skaly. Discussions with partners are also underway to translate these research findings into clinical trials, which could start during the coming year.