Scientists Crack HIV Coding, Leading To Possible AIDS Cure

Scientists have completely mapped the structure of the protein that encases HIV’s critical genetic information, a development that could eventually lead to new drugs to fight AIDS.

A research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine was able to use a supercomputer from the University of Illinois known as “Blue Waters” to reveal “seams” in the HIV’s capsid, the protein casing of a virus that holds its DNA. In order to be effective, the capsid has to be strong enough to protect the virus’ DNA while it is outside of a host cell, but malleable enough to break open once a virus infects a cell, allowing the virus to reprogram its host.

Scientists have long tried to develop therapies that attack HIV’s capsid, but it’s so far proved too tough to crack. Its chemical makeup had never been completely described before the University of Pittsburgh study, published Wednesday in Nature.

“HIV’s capsid is stable enough to protect the virus’ essential components, but it also has to disassociate once it enters the cell,” says Peijun Zhang, one of the authors of the study. “Understanding the interface by which it disassociates is important to developing new therapies.”

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