Scientists revive dormant gene to prevent HIV transmission

April 28th, 2009 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 28 (IANS) Scientists have revived a dormant gene found in humans and have coaxed it to produce retrocyclin, a protein that resists HIV.
Alexander Cole of University of Central Florida (UCF) used aminoglycosides, drugs commonly used to fight bacterial infections, to trigger production of the sleeping protein expressed by the retrocyclin gene.

“It could make a huge difference in the fight against HIV,” Cole said. “Much more work would be needed to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of this approach. We would certainly have to have human trials, but these findings represent a promising step in that direction.”

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. The disease, most often transmitted sexually, affects 4.3 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

About 14,560 people die annually from HIV-related complications every year in the US alone, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

Cole’s quest began while he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

There, he and his colleagues discovered that similar retrocyclin proteins found in early primates appeared to prevent HIV infections in cell cultures. The same gene exists in humans, but because of a mutation, it no longer produces the protein.

Now, in collaboration with UCLA researchers, Centre for Disease Control and his team at UCF, Cole has found that restoring the production of retrocyclins prevents HIV entry.

He found a way to get the gene to produce retrocyclins and then showed that the retrocyclins appear to prevent the transmission of HIV.

He applied aminoglycoside antibiotics to vaginal tissues and cervical cells in his lab and found the antibiotic appears to stimulate those cells and tissues to produce retrocyclins on their own.

He said there is a good possibility the aminoglycoside antibiotics will be used in a cream or gel format that could someday be a simple way to prevent the transmission of HIV from men to women, said a UCF release.

Findings from his three-year investigation were published in this month’s PLOS Biology.

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