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Australian scientists make breakthrough on HIV's infectious grip

09-21-2010 13:30 BJT

CANBERRA, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Australian scientists on Tuesday revealed the most complete picture of the way Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) maintains its infectious grip on the body, pointing to new ways to combat it.

The Melbourne-based research has explained how the virus hides dormant versions of itself in a reservoir of cells out of the reach of conventional treatments but still able to "wake up" in the future, posing a major hurdle to any total cure for HIV.

"Once HIV gets into these cells, the virus can then go to sleep, " Co-Head of the Burnet Institute's Center for Virology and Director of The Alfred's Infectious Diseases Unit, Professor Sharon Lewin told Australian Associated Press (AAP) on Tuesday.

"These silently infected cells are not cleared by anti-HIV drugs or the immune system (meaning) once a patient stops the anti- HIV drugs, the virus can then wake up and gets going again.

"Understanding this mechanism will enable new treatment options to be developed which could block latent infection."

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science this week.

Prof Lewin said it had remained a mystery as to how the virus gained access to the body's resting CD4-T cells and how it could then lie hidden for years despite prolonged treatment with anti- HIV drugs.

"Our team of researchers has now identified the path by which the virus can infect resting CD4-T cells and establish latency," Prof Lewin said.

"We have shown that a family of proteins, called chemokines, that guide resting cells through the blood and into lymph node tissue can 'unlock the door' and allow HIV to enter and set up a silent or 'latent' infection."

Prof Lewin said understanding how the virus achieved this should speed up the development of new and more potent treatments for HIV, that could possibly block the virus from establishing latency while also targeting its more active presence in the body.

Professor Brendan Crabb, Director of the Burnet Institute, said the breakthrough was a long time coming and heralded the beginning of a new chapter in the fight against HIV and Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

"We (the global scientific community) have been working on HIV for close to 30 years and it's really only now that we're beginning to see that a cure for HIV might be achievable and needs to be a major scientific priority," Professor Crabb told AAP.

The research was a collaborative effort involving scientists from the Burnet Institute, The Alfred, Monash University of Australia, University of Montreal, Canada and the Westmead Millennium Research Institute in Sydney.

Editor:Jin Lin |Source: Xinhua

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