Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have developed a form of gene therapy that may stop HIV from harming the immune system by manipulating its genetic structure, thereby turning the virus against itself. The technique, which alters the proteins that allow HIV to replicate itself throughout the body, was developed by Dr. David Harrich. The process of modifying the proteins is referred to as “Nullbasic.”
Harrich has been studying HIV since 1989 but didn’t have a major breakthrough in his research until about five years ago. He told The Times: “With money running out, I had my PhD student try one more experiment in late 2007. The experiment was to test if Nullbasic could render HIV non-infectious. The student came back and said it worked, so I told him to do it again and again and again. It works every time.”
By stopping HIV from replicating itself, Harrich believes individuals infected with the virus could be prevented from suffering any of the symptoms that the disease usually causes. Stem cell research has played a big part in Harrich’s work, and were it not available, it’s unclear if this new development would have been discovered.
“The stem cells revolution has had a huge impact on this project. I’m not sure we would have continued if it was not possible to restore an entire immune system with stem cells,” he said.
Mice will be the first test subjects for Harrich’s team beginning this year. If the research yields positive results, a clinical trial may be upcoming at some point in the next ten years.