Wednesday, March 14, 2012

One step closer in the treatment of HIV

HIV infects more than 33 million people worldwide.  Thanks to current prevention measures, such as certain tests that detect HIV early on and new antiretroviral drugs that can control the virus for decades, the infection with the virus that causes AIDS is no longer a death sentence.  However, use of antiviral drugs for a lifetime raises questions of cost, side effects, drug resistance, and ultimate lifespan.  Current research areas include trying to find a way to flush hidden HIV from cells to changing out a patient’s own immune systems cells, making them resistant to HIV, and then putting the cells back in the patient’s body.  Plus, early human trials of vaccines designed to prevent or treat the infection has since shown to be disappointing.  The greatest challenge for researchers to overcome is the fact that HIV is a provirus that is integrated into the DNA of a host cell, where it has the potential to remain latent or eventually reactivate.  In fact, only one competent provirus in one tissue could reseed the entire infection after a vaccine has been applied.  

HIV Structure
The current focus of our audio project is to detail a current study expected to be a revolutionary step in the process of potentially finding a cure for HIV.  Chemists at the University of Texas at Austin have recently published an article titled “A sequence-specific threading tetra-intercalator with an extremely slow dissociation rate constant” in Nature Chemistry (2011), which detailed the synthesis of a molecule with the ability to tangle itself inside the DNA double helix for an astonishing sixteen days before the DNA liberates itself.  The synthesis of this molecule is an important step in the creation of drugs that can directly go after rogue DNA.  This drug would be revolutionary in the treatment of genetic diseases, cancer, and retroviruses such as HIV.  Specifically, the molecule developed utilizes “electron deficient aromatic intercalating units connected “head-to-tail” by flexible linking chains that slide back and forth through the DNA helix, analogous to how a snake would climb a ladder (according to Dr. Iverson, head researcher on the project).”  Dr. Iverson’s lab is currently examining the relatively long lifetime of this class of molecule when bound to the DNA double helix, as well as examination into the mechanism by which the binding site is recognized among long stretches of unrecognizable DNA.  The researcher’s ultimate goal is to control DNA binding duration and specificity sufficient gene expression in a predictable fashion.       

The original research artricle can be found at Nature Chemistry

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