Potential breakthrough made in search for AIDS vaccine

Researchers at John's Hopkins University and several European universities  may have found a way to disarm the AIDS virus in research that could lead to a vaccine.
By eliminating a cholesterol membrane surrounding the virus, HIV cannot disrupt communication among disease-fighting cells, allowing the immune system to return to normal, VOA News reports.
The scientists discovered that HIV requires cholesterol, which it picks up from the first immune cells it infects, to keep the virus' outer membrane fluid. This allows it to communicate with and disrupt the immune system of the body. The long-term effect of the disrupted communication destroys the body's normal defense against the AIDS virus.
The researchers have said that they can prevent HIV from damaging the immune system if they are able to remove the cholesterol from the virus' outer membrane.
“By stealing cholesterol from the envelope of the virus, we can neutralize the subversion," David Graham, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said, according to VOA News. "We’ve broken the code; we can shut down the type of interference that HIV is having on the immune system.”
HIV uses cholesterol from plasmacytoid dendritic cells, which usually signal that the adaptive part of the immune system, T-cells, to form a more specific, long-lasting response. HIV cells reprogram the immune system to become hyperactive, causing the T-cells to not respond properly, allowing the virus to spread. Graham suggests that this is the reason many AIDS vaccines have been unsuccessful, because candidate vaccines attempt to bolster the T-cells, which have been weakened by the HIV reprogramming, according to VOA News.
Graham and his colleagues found a way to disable HIV's cholesterol membrane so it cannot alter the first-responder cells, allowing the T-cells to fight the HIV infection, or pathogen, more effectively.
"The immune system now treated it more like a regular pathogen that you would encounter, and we would have normal immune responses that would result in protection," Graham said, VOA News reports.
Research has so far only been conducted in the laboratory, but Graham hopes studies in animals and humans will eventually lead to an AIDS vaccine.

The research is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Britain's Wellcome Trust.

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