MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Genetic clues from Black Death may help scientists fight HIV and hepatitis C

The purpose of the study is to determine if there is an inherited genetic variant that might protect people from HIV. | File photo

A recent study from the University of Cincinnati suggests that genetic clues from the Black Death may be helpful in developing antiretroviral drug therapy treatments for people with HIV and hepatitis C infections.

Black Death first spread through Europe during the 1300s, killing approximately 50 percent of the population. There remain genetic clues about the virus, which may be the missing pieces for treatments for people with co-infections of HIV and hepatitis C.

The study evaluated blood samples from approximately 3,000 patients. Most of these are people with hemophilia who contracted HIV in the 1980s and 1990s. The purpose of the study is to determine if there is an inherited genetic variant that might protect people from HIV, hepatitis C, and similar liver illnesses.

This research is part of the $2 million National Institutes of Health grant that is focused on discovering methods of inhibiting CCR5. This protein is the top chemokine receptor within the immune cells, or T cells.

"It turns out that HIV and its evolution hijacked that receptor and uses CCR5 as its primary way of binding to T-cells, entering them and killing them," Dr. Kenneth Sherman, director of the Division of Digestive Diseases in the Cincinnati College of Medicine, said. "That's what causes AIDS. CCR5 is not just present on T-cells but also exists in the liver on the surface of hepatocytes and also in the liver on stellate cells. Stellate cells are the cells that produce scar tissue in the liver which can lead to the development of cirrhosis. The focus of this grant is to look at how inhibition of CCR5 might influence the development of liver injury and/or the development of scar or cirrhosis in the liver."

Organizations in this story

University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center 260 Stetson St Cincinnati, OH 45219

National Institutes of Health 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892

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