Fighting HIV by Building a New Killer Frankenstein Virus
Posted December 6, 2006on:
In order to find out how one of the world’s most devastating diseases overcomes state-of-the-art drugs, scientists led by Dr. Vineet KewalRamani at National Cancer Institute (NCI) are biohacking and re-engineering the HIV virus. Dr. KewalRamani and his collegues have combined pieces of HIV and another virus to create a deadly new hybrid—a tenacious little microbe that knows all the tricks of its parent pathogens. Discovering where, and how, HIV hides in the body will be a critical step towards a cure for the disease—or at least a better treatment.
The hybrid Frankenstein virus is still too different from HIV to be useful in finding the holy grail of AIDS research: an effective vaccine. (Microscopy courtesy of the National Institutes of Health)
From a medical standpoint, what makes this viral Frankenstein special is that it possesses twin traits not found together in any other virus. First, it can replicate in macaques—monkeys commonly used in medical research—causing an AIDS-like illness. That’s crucial, because macaques are ideal vessels in which to study how immune-compromising viruses do their dirty work. Second, the new pathogen is susceptible to a full complement of antiretroviral drugs, the primary tools used to treat HIV-positive patients. This means that, for the first time, researchers can both induce and suppress an ailment that mimics the defining aspects of human HIV infection.
Read rest of this extremely fascinating story as featured in the December issue of popular mechanics.