A cure for HIV?
Well, not quite yet, but researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California have found something that will definitely help in the search for a cure.
HIV is a virus that primarily attacks T-cells, which are part of the body’s immune response. These T-cells normally are the ones that look out for foreign invaders. It’s like killing the sentinels before invading the city. HIV does this is by becoming engulfed by the cells. In fact, this is how all viruses infect the body. However, what is unique about HIV is that it uses two receptors on the surface of the cell to get inside: CCR5 and CXCR4.
By using a technique called X-Ray Crystallography, Professor Raymond Stevens and his team have determined the structure of the more mysterious CXCR4 receptor. Though X-Ray Crystallography is a very widely used technique, this study was quite complicated, since CXCR4 actually sits on the membrane itself, making it a very elusive protein to examine.
Well, that’s great – but what is the significance of all this? Knowing the structure of this receptor gives drug companies a reason to rub their hands with glee. Chemists from all over will be getting their hands dirty by exploiting the structure and trying to make a drug to prevent HIV from binding. Companies are already working towards blocking CCR5, and a combination of drugs that block both receptors would prove to be extremely beneficial. The only problem is that CXCR4 has many important immune functions outside of HIV infections, which is why blocking it may prove to be harmful.
Nevertheless, it seems that we are well on our way to curing this deadly disease.