Could a cure for HIV/AIDS be on the way? Scientists could be getting closer, thanks to a recent breakthrough.
A research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently used the Blue Waters supercomputer to map out the structure of the protein that protects HIV's genetic information.
The computer helped the scientists pinpoint seams in HIV's capsid, which is the protein casing that protects the virus' DNA. The capsid is strong enough to protect the DNA of the virus but can break open when the virus infects a cell, infecting a host.
For some time, researchers have tried to attack the HIV capsid. Before the latest study published in Nature, the chemical makeup had never been completely identified.
"HIV's capsid is stable enough to protect the virus' essential components, but it also has to disassociate once it enters the cell," says Peijun Zhang, a study author. "Understanding the interface by which it disassociates is important to developing new therapies."
Zhang says the new information may make it possible for other researchers to develop innovations to make the capsid "hyperstable" and unable to separate, which would make it harmless to humans. Or they could make the capsid less stable so it would be destroyed before infecting a person.
"The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection," Zhang said.
"This approach has the potential to be a powerful alternative to our current HIV therapies, which work by targeting certain enzymes, but drug resistance is an enormous challenge due to the virus' high mutation rate," Zhang added.
More articles on HIV and AIDS
All should have HIV screening
Are you at risk for HIV and AIDS?
AIDS: What you need to know
The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and the author alone. They do not reflect the opinions of SheKnows, LLC or any of its affiliates and they have not been reviewed by an expert in a related field or any member of the SheKnows editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. Content and other information presented on the Site are not a substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on SheKnows. SheKnows does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.