Researchers exploit HIV's "sweet tooth" to weaken virus

HIV sweet tooth weakens virus
HIV sweet tooth weakens virus | Courtesy of

Researchers recently discovered that HIV has a "sweet tooth" for sugar and nutrients from activated immune cells, which may prove to be the cell’s weak spot where scientists can administer treatments for patients.

The team from Vanderbilt University and Northwestern Medicine discovered that the HIV cell invades an activated immune cell to devour the sugar and nutrients, which enables the virus to replicate and grow rapidly throughout patients. By turning on the immune cell’s nutrient and sugar flow through an experimental compound, the scientists blocked the flow, effectively starving HIV to death as without these sugars, HIV was not able to replicate in human cells.

This discovery may also help researchers create new, effective treatments for cancer, as cancer cells also crave sugar and similar cellular nutrients that it uses to spread throughout the body.

"This compound can be the precursor for something that can be used in the future as part of a cocktail to treat HIV that improves on the effective medicines we have today," Harry Taylor, research assistant professor in medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said. "It's essential to find new ways to block HIV growth, because the virus is constantly mutating. A drug targeting HIV that works today may be less effective a few years down the road, because HIV can mutate itself to evade the drug."

Taylor said this new approach, which slows the growth of the immune cells, could reduce the dangerous inflammation and thwart the life-long persistence of HIV.

"This discovery opens new avenues for further research to solve today's persisting problems in treating HIV infection: avoiding virus resistance to medicines, decreasing the inflammation that leads to premature aging, and maybe even one day being able to cure HIV infection," Richard D'Aquila, director of Northwestern's HIV Translational Research Center, said.

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Northwestern Medicine Vanderbilt University

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