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14 September 2006
Breakthrough Made In Controlling HIV Virus
by George Atkinson

Canadian scientists have made what could be an important step forward in medicine's battle against the HIV virus. For the first time, they have identified a defect in the body's immune response to HIV and found a way to correct the flaw. Specifically, the work relates to the identification of a new therapeutic target - the PD-1 protein - that restores the functionality of T cells, whose job it is to eliminate the virus.

Appearing in the journal Nature Medicine, the new findings represent a major breakthrough and could open new avenues for controlling HIV infection. "Immune system cells made non-functional by HIV can be identified by the presence of a protein that is significantly over-expressed when infected by the virus," explained researcher Rafick-Pierre Sékaly. "The most important discovery made in this study arises from the fact that by stimulating this protein, we succeeded in preventing the virus from making immune system cells dysfunctional," he added.

Importantly, the findings have been replicated by two other laboratories. "It's a rare occurrence for three teams to work together on attacking a major problem. Up until now, the virus has been more or less invincible. By combining our efforts, we found the missing link that may enable us to defeat the virus," said Dr. Sékaly.

"The results of Dr. Sekaly's study represent an important step in the development of a new therapeutic approach in the fight against HIV," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Dr. Mark Wainberg, Co-Director of the 16th World AIDS Conference held recently in Toronto, was even more excited about the development. "This scientific breakthrough is a giant step in the fight against AIDS. It is particularly interesting to see that some of the best research teams are working together to stop this terrible curse," he enthused.

Discussions with potential development partners are now underway to hopefully translate these preliminary research findings into clinical trials, which could start in 2007.

Based on material from the University of Montreal

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