HIV/AIDS has scared people long before Coronavirus was even discovered. Of all incurable transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS was the most popular until Covid-19 surfaced. There have been more than 7,70,000 deaths due to the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), so far. And around 37.9 million people are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) across the globe.
A Silver Lining, At Long Last
University of Michigan Health System has produced some very able researchers. They have now come across a class of antibiotics that could possibly be the cure for this deadly virus. Those antibiotics, Pleicomacrolides, may help the immune system kill HIV-infected cells.
Some Background On HIV/AIDS
This virus interferes with the immune system, increasing the risk of developing common infections such as tuberculosis, tumours etc. Such infections are otherwise rare in people who have a normal level of immunity in their body. HIV/AIDS spreads by unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
The reason why this particular virus stays inside us is that it knows how to remain hidden. During any regular immune response to infection, antibodies normally lock onto a target on the surface of the virus. This disables the infectious threat. This isn’t possible with HIV. It changes shape. As a result, a known target for antibodies hides within the virus. Antibodies scan the surface, but can’t lock onto their target.
HIV can also adapt to mimic other proteins in our bodies. It is critical the immune system identifies and attacks foreign pathogens, but not target and damage normal cells. HIV changes its structure to imitate a normal part of our body. Consequently, the immune system gets tricked into leaving it alone. By using these methods HIV escapes elimination, which usually works on other diseases.
HIV/AIDS and 10 signs that you could be infected… https://t.co/dnNifI4R1r
— Fact (@Fact) October 1, 2020
So far, there hasn’t been any cure for HIV. The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the above-mentioned study. It showed that a certain kind of antibiotic can prove effective in stimulating the immune system to clear the HIV infected cells by inhibiting a protein called Nef.
What Is Nef Protein?
A protein called major histocompatibility class I (MHC-I), present on the surface of the cell, is overridden. MHC-I tells the immune cells that a particular cell is infected and needs to be discarded soon. Nef is an HIV-encoded accessory protein which increases the infective ability of the virus by suppressing MHC-I.
As MHC-I is disabled, the infected cells keep on multiplying. As a consequence, the infection spreads. Therefore, to prevent the spread of infection, scientists needed to find a potent Nef inhibitor. One that restores the activity of MHC-I.
Destroying HIV-Infected Cells
Initially, scientists from the University of Michigan examined different FDA-approved drugs or molecules that were already present in the market. The drug needs to be effective enough to override or restrict Nef. And it should then restore the functioning ability of MHC-I. As a result, allow the immune system to recognise the HIV-infected cells on their own and destroy them efficiently.
Where’s The Catch?
Pleicomacrolides destroy lysosome. The lysosome is the part of a cell that helps in the digestion of worn-out cell parts, viruses and bacteria. However, they are toxic in nature. Hence, not used as drugs.
But on further examination, the team of scientists found that concanamycin A, a type of pleicomacrolide, could restrict the activity of Nef at much lower concentrations than those used to inhibit lysosomes. This reduced the chances of short-term toxicity in the surrounding cells.
When the researchers used Concanamycin A to treat HIV-infected Nef-expressing cells, they found that it activated a particular type of immune cells, which then cleared off the HIV-infected cells.
Will There Be A Good News On HIV/AIDS?
Yes, this research has the potential to become rewarding in future. Although, scientists believe that it seems a little risky at the moment. However, before it could be used for the treatment of those who have HIV, more research needs to be done on this drug.