New technologies are providing us with incredible opportunities to look into the microscopic world and understand how tiny organisms we previously didn’t understand operate.
One of the newest outstanding experiments in this realm takes a look at the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Researchers monitored the virus in test tube settings, accomplishing something that hasn’t been done before – understanding some of the steps that lead from the initial HIV infection to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The Way a Virus Works
Since the HIV virus works deep within the human cells, it was impossible for researchers up till now to identify the mechanism that contributed to the extensive damage of the immune system that eventually leads to AIDS.
The new study was carried out in a way that allows the observation of viral replication. Researchers actually got to witness the manner in which HIV replicates its genome to insert it in the healthy DNA of a target cell.
In addition, the team experimented with various ways that could be utilised to destabilise the virus and discontinue its replication. Such experiments will play a vital role in the development of more effective and even brand new hiv prevention and prophylactic measures in the future.
Visually, the virus is deceptively simple in structure, the authors of the study report. An outer shell protects the genetic material inside and the virus itself has a conical shape. Originally, it was believed that the outer shell only played a protective role for the genetic material. The new study reveals an interesting additional function that the shell plays in the infection of the host.
When the research team used strategies to destabilise the outer shell called the capsid, the virus was incapable of replicating itself in the test tube settings.
Cryo-electron microscopes and molecular modelling were both utilised to view the capsid closely. The technology is so advanced that researchers could actually see all of the 240 protein tiles that fit together like armour and form the protective layer of the virus. They concluded this armour isn’t just a shield. It has a function and it helps for the infiltration of the immune cells –the very same cells responsible for fighting HIV.
Opportunities for the Development of New Drugs?
The HIV virus is about 60 times smaller than a red blood cell, which has made investigative work difficult up till present. New microscopy advances, however, are now making it possible to turn around some textbook premises about the virus.
Researchers found out that the capsid surprisingly remains intact while the replication process called reverse transcription takes place. This discovery sheds some light into the functioning of an HIV drug that’s first of its kind. The Gilead medication targets the capsid and so far, it has proven to be a very effective and powerful viral inhibitor.
So far, the medication has done really well in Phase I clinical trials. Studies have been ongoing for over 12 months shows the drug is tolerated well and it delivers good results in combination with other HIV medications.
Most antiretroviral medications (ART therapy) products available on the market now work by preventing the replication of the virus. There are different classes of ART drugs. Most of them inhibit various viral enzymes critical to the replication of the virus. They prevent the binding of HIV to the receptors of immune cells, which makes reverse transcription impossible.
Having one more way of targeting the virus by destroying its outer shell could lead to the development of new protocols that target HIV in more than one way.
HIV Is No Longer a Death Sentence
While research is ongoing and the scientific community produces new findings each year, there are already steady and reliable protocols for the management of the HIV infection.
Through regular testing and a diagnosis soon after the infection occurs, a patient can start ART therapy quickly. The sooner HIV treatment starts, the easier becomes to reduce the viral load and to potentially make it undetectable.
The risk of becoming infected has also been brought down through developments like pre-exposure prophylaxis (HIV PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (HIV PEP). Both of these consist of ART medications that are administered immediately before or after a risky contact. When taking according to specifications, both HIV PEP and PrEP reduce the risk of becoming infected by over 90 per cent.
If you want to learn more or get tested, please visit our clinic during working hours every day of the week. You’ll benefit from professional, confidential assistance that will help you take better charge of your health and manage potential issues in the most effective way.
- Christensen, D. E. (2020, October 9). Reconstitution and visualization of HIV-1 capsid-dependent replication and integration in vitro. Science Journal. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6513/eabc8420/
- Staff, S. X. (2020, October 8). HIV up close: Unprecedented view of virus reveals essential steps for causing AIDS. MedicalXpress. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-hiv-unprecedented-view-virus-reveals.html