Pioneering gene therapy for AIDS could be on the horizon

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A pioneering gene therapy for AIDS may be on the horizon after scientists discovered a ‘switch’ which could stop the virus working.

Primates, including humans, carry a protein that blocks viruses, including HIV, from working, according to the new research.

It is hoped the discovery will lead to new drugs that harness the power of the chemical, known as TRIM5alpha, which switches on our immune system.

Dr Lionel Berthoux, of the University of Quebec, said: “Our cells can mount a surprisingly complex response to viral infections.

“Finding a way to tweak the activity of these antiviral factors so that they target HIV, or other viruses of interest, is a valuable avenue of research.”

He said the protein, published in the journal Heliyon, has the potential for use in developing anti-HIV gene therapy in the future.

Dr Berthoux said it can intercept HIV and related viruses and stop them from replicating and infecting more cells. It can also switch on the immune system, helping us fight HIV infection.

Previous research has identified different parts of the TRIM5alpha responsible for fighting HIV but the new study has discovered how it switches on the immune system by attaching to another protein called “SUMO.”

In the latest study, researchers from Québec, the University of Colorado Boulder, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US a new part of the TRIM5alpha that could attach to SUMO and thereby activate an immune response which they called SIM4.

Dr Berthoux said: “Our new findings contribute to mapping how our immune systems are activated against retroviruses like HIV.”

Dr. Berthoux and the team analyzed SIM4 and found that when it is mutated, the TRIM5alpha protein can no longer attach to HIV or stop it from working. This suggests that SIM4 is vital for arming TRIM5alpha against HIV.

Dr Berthoux said: “Our cells can mount a surprisingly complex response to viral infections.

“Finding a way to tweak the activity of these antiviral factors so that they target HIV, or other viruses of interest, is a valuable avenue of research.”