A type of statistical analysis used to study high-energy physics and stock market fluctuations could yield a new angle of attack in the fight against the virus that causes AIDS. A surgical strike on specific, steadfast sectors of HIV could lead to new drugs or vaccines, according to a new study.
HIV has been so difficult to fight in part because it is such an adept mutant. It produces sloppy copies of itself as it replicates, leading to many variations that can withstand drugs and vaccines. And it can produce 100 billion new virus particles every day, as Ed Yong points out over at Discover, which leads to lots and lots of copies. Broad-spectrum drugs or vaccines can’t do very much against a target that morphs so quickly.But not all the pieces of HIV mutate with such abandon, according to this new study. Some groups of amino acids known as HIV sectors are somewhat less fickle, staying the same while the rest of the virus morphs, according to researchers at the Ragon Institute, a research group bridging MIT, Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital. Researchers believe these sites must remain unchanged for the virus to survive and replicate properly.
Researchers led by HIV research pioneer Bruce Walker and MIT chemical engineering professor Arup Chakraborty say this stalwart section of the virus can be turned against it. If the immune system can be trained to attack all the amino acid portions in an HIV sector, the virus will either have to mutate to thwart the attack — thereby undermining its structural integrity, crippling itself — or not mutate, which would render it helpless against drugs or vaccines.