Engineered protein blocks AIDS virus from entering cells

Washington: In a possible breakthrough in the fight against AIDS, scientists claim to have engineered a new protein that prevents the virus from entering cells.

The scientists say this protein is based on a naturally occurring protein in the body, called RANTES, which is part of the body`s immune system and protects cells from viruses.

RANTES naturally defends the body against HIV/AIDS, but cannot be used as a drug or drug candidate because it has several other biological effects which could cause harmful inflammation.

After examining the precise molecular structure of the RANTES protein, the scientists discovered that only a small fragment of the RANTES protein is actually responsible for blocking HIV entry into cells.

From there, they dissected the desired section of the RANTES protein and worked to stabilise it without compromising its protective effects, `The FASEB Journal` reported.

After several sequential steps of molecular refinement and some virtual modelling, the researchers created a peptide with very high potency against HIV, with possible benefits for treating inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and lupus, as well as the prevention of transplant rejection.

"This is science fiction made reality. These researchers took a protein apart and removed the portion that causes harm, then stabilised and modified the section that has a therapeutic effect.

"Not only is this good news for people with AIDS, it`s good news for all of us as this research paves the way for similar work for many, many other illnesses," said Gerald Weissmann, the Editor-in-Chief of `The FASEB Journal`.

He added: "We`re finally able to design smart anti- HIV drugs aimed at the right target. That`s because scientists have spent decades figuring out the molecular details of how the virus enters cells, and the exact chemical structures involved."