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Closer to HIV cure?

Scientists have found out how to crack the coating of an HIV protein, possibly paving the way for more therapies or even a cure.

DNA research

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.

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