Interfering with HIV: Nef and HIV

Although progress against HIV has been slow, we seem to be in a new era, as we are beginning to reap the benefits from our years of research. Certainly, advancements have been made across the board. Perhaps this can best be illustrated by the lengthened life expectancy for people diagnosed with HIV. Increased life expectancy is the result of a number of factors. Some of these factors are greater understanding of the disease, new therapies and, especially, the effective cocktail of antiretroviral drugs that is now available. Many of these therapies are directly interfering with HIV and its ability to infect cells, thus keeping HIV from progressing to AIDS. Certainly, living with a chronic condition such as HIV, instead of facing a terminal illness, is a major advancement.

As stirring as this reality is, there is always the need for better treatment options. Moreover, as the fight against the disease has progressed, researchers are now facing viral mutation of HIV. This has led to certain strains of HIV that are developing resistance to antiretroviral therapies. This difficult challenge facing researchers has led to an exciting discovery; one which could lead to new drug therapies.

Nef is a protein that is not new in HIV research. However, it has received renewed focus as alternative mechanisms of HIV infection have been uncovered. Nef has an important role to play in the infection of cells, as it binds itself to other proteins in a cell. When this happens it then becomes impossible for anything else to enter and infect that cell. Because of a more complete understanding of this process, researchers now believe it may be possible to take advantage of the protein. The idea is for a drug to enter and bind with Nef, thus disabling HIV’s ability to infect other cells. We might describe this as an ‘immobilizing’ tactic. Moreover, this should work with already developed therapies. This type of therapy has an added benefit, as it would not have to harm the human cell. This is because the drugs would be targeting the HIV protein site.

New pharmaceuticals could be created effectively interfering with HIV and its ability to further infect the cell. Having this ability would make treating HIV much more effective. When we add to this the fact that healthy cells would not be affected, it is easy to see why researchers are so excited.