Researchers have discovered a protein that may slow the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), thereby revealing a target for developing natural therapies against the deadly virus.
“In earlier studies, we knew that we could interfere with the spread of HIV-1, but we couldn’t identify the mechanism that was stopping the process,” said study co-author Yong-Hui Zheng, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University in the US.
The researchers found that the protein ERManI prevents the HIV virus from replicating.
“We now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as a antiretroviral treatment,” Zheng noted.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV-1. Once patients have it, they have it for life. While there are antiretroviral therapies available, they can only prolong life, albeit dramatically, but they cannot cure the disease.
Current drug treatments have to be taken for a lifetime, which causes side effects and many other issues, Zheng said.
“We see a way to treat this disease by helping the body protect itself,” he noted.
While it could be decades before an ERManI-based treatment can be prescribed for HIV-1 patients, these results provide a strong path for future research involving human cells, and later, clinical tests.
The next steps will be to test if HIV resistance can be promoted by increasing ERManI levels, Zheng pointed out.