Though there is currently no known cure for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), bioscientists at research universities across the globe are looking into ways to mitigate the disease. In our country, we’ve recently seen St. Louis researchers use bee venom to puncture HIV viruses and Twin Cities researchers investigate a genetic immunity to HIV. At Michigan State University, a team has discovered an inhibitor to the virus that is found inside the human body.
The most common treatments for HIV focus on preventing the virus from replicating, so as to keep the virus levels low enough that the body can keep it in check. We have been successful so far in finding compounds that hinder replication and can be administered as a drug, but they have a few drawbacks. First, not every patient’s body responds to such compounds, and second, several cause unwanted side effects.
This is why Yong-Hui Zheng, MSU associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, began searching for a natural inhibitor, one which he knew the body already tolerated. He even had a lead from previous work in which he inhibited the reproduction of HIV that existed in the body.
“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,” Zheng said in a recent MSU press release. It wasn’t long before he found what he was looking for. “We now know that ERManI is an essential key, and that it has the potential as an antiretroviral treatment.”
ERManI is a protein that targets a specific part of the HIV virus known as the envelope glycoprotein. These molecules sit on the edge of the virus’ membrane and serve two purposes: first, to guide HIV to a breeding site (usually a host cell) and second, to help HIV bind to said breeding site. ERManI sticks to the glycoprotein so that the HIV has no clue where to go and no way to land anywhere.
(Zheng and his team observe the effects of ERManI against HIV. Image courtesy MSU and G.L. Kohuth)
“We see a way to treat this disease by helping the body protect itself,” says Zheng, who envisions treatments such as natural supplements or genetic stimulation to produce more ERManI. “That’s why we continue to move our research forward, seemingly slowly at times, because finding a cure will take years. We feel that’s it’s important enough, on a world-wide scale, to dedicate our work to fighting this disease.”
This research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. For more information on the grants MSU earns with its outstanding research, peruse our free Funding Statistics report, below:
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