Researchers have discovered a protein that has the ability to fight a broad range of viruses including HIV – the protein is called cholesterol 25 hydroxylase. How does it work?

It changes normal cholesterol into hydroxycholesterol, and when in this form it functions as an antiviral, blocking the virus from permeating cell walls and spreading. Interferon is the enzyme that activates this process, and this is particularly interesting as interferon is a protein already well-known for helping the body fight viruses.

While interferon is not itself an antiviral, the protein is necessary in order to activate 25HC, and its immune system work has been well documented. The discovery of hydroxycholesterol is exciting, because it holds the promise of something that can actually be synthesized and distributed for use.

What are the implications of this study? The idea is that this protein may be used to create a broad spectrum of medicines to fight an array of viruses. Oxysterol (also called 25HC) was used successfully in a lab to reduce HIV in cells, and was then tested with human cells inserted into mice. This showed that 25HC could significantly reduce the amount of HIV in just one week, while also restoring the T-cells usually depleted by the virus.

Ebola and other diseases were also part of the testing process, and these viruses were all found to have their growth inhibited by 25HC showing that it can be used to fight many types of viruses. The two main drawbacks thus far are that 25HC is difficult to deliver in the necessary high dosage, and that it has not been tested against current antivirals to measure its effectiveness. Thus studies are expected to continue, with the aim of ascertaining whether or not oxysterol is a feasible method for fighting modern viruses.