A scientist from King's College, London, says his team has identified a gene that provides humans with a natural defence against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The gene discovery could be used to produce new treatments for HIV or AIDS.
The team has shown that the gene, called CEM15, interferes with the life cycle of the HIV virus, making new virus particles non-infectious. However, the gene is normally overcome by a protein in the HIV virus called Vif (virion infectivity factor) that is essential in the virus' replication.
Professor Michael Malim and his team looked at HIV-infected cells lacking the Vif protein. When these came into contact with human cells with the CEM15 gene, the virus did not continue to replicate. Professor Malim described the findings as 'very significant' as they give evidence that healthy human cells have a potential means of fighting against HIV infection. He added that the research 'will hopefully lead to a way of stopping Vif from working and thus enabling the body's natural defence mechanism to come into play'.