Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have developed a new method that could potentially stop HIV in its tracks by disrupting its replicating mechanism.
The team has discovered how the virus’ RNA (the genetic blueprint of the virus) is spread throughout the cell. The RNA was believed to move from the virus directly to the human cell “assembly lines” where it takes over and the production of more viruses begins.
But the path is not a direct one. According to the study published in the Journal of Virology, the virus' RNA and proteins spread inside the cell cytoplasm, the gel-like substance and sub-structures present within a cell, like a liquid. At some point, the RNA will link to the Group specific antigen (Gag), a particular protein, and then move to the cell membrane to make new viruses.
Armed with this discovery, the research team has devised a method to disrupt the HIV production. They think it’s possible to tether the RNA molecule to other regions of the cell, limiting its interaction with Gag.
“It is difficult to know if the strategy alone would kill the virus, but by combining this new idea with existing drugs, it could be possible to enhance the effectiveness of those drugs," lead author Jordan Becker said in a statement. "That’s because it would keep the virus from adapting to the drugs since fewer new virus particles would be created.”
It should be stressed that these are early results and it would take a lot more for this technique to be implemented.
“The study is really the tip of an iceberg in terms of understanding when, where, and how HIV RNAs move inside cells. Some of the RNAs have really unique features and play multiple important roles during infection,” senior author Professor Nathan Sherer added. “Thus, selectively targeting their movements should be both feasible and potentially a really great way to kill HIV.”
The scientists think that this strategy could be extended beyond HIV and it could help with viruses that have developed some form of drug resistance.
“We are thinking more broadly that perturbing viral RNA distribution inside the cell could work for many if not all viruses from HIV to flu to Ebola, thus an exciting new direction,” Sherer said.