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Scientists discover potent protein that prevents HIV infection

In a promising advance in the war against AIDS, scientists have designed a potent, new protein that can prevent HIV infection by blocking its entry into human cells. The protein, called 5-Helix and designed to bind to a region in the HIV coat protein gp41, is able to prevent a wide range of HIV strains from fusing to the cell membrane and thereby infecting it.

The researchers say that the 5-Helix protein could therefore serve as the basis for a new class of broad spectrum, injectible drugs against HIV, one that could be used as an alternative when current drugs fail, i.e., as a salvage therapy. Drugs based on 5-Helix would need to be injected, but could be self-administered much the same way as injectible drugs such as insulin or erythropoeitin are.

The 5-Helix protein could also serve as a basis for prophylactics that could be injected immediately after inadvertent needle pricks in hospital settings to prevent HIV from infecting cells.

These results, from Peter S. Kim and colleagues at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and published in the January 11 issue of ScienceExpress (an electronic publication of Science magazine highlighting papers from future issues), hold great promise for clinical applications.

Unlike currently used drugs that target HIV at other points during its life cycleafter it has already infected the celldrugs based on 5-Helix could work by preventing HIV fusion with cell membranes. Such "entry inhibitors" represent a promising and alternative line of attack against HIV. In fact, one entry inhibitor, called T-20, has shown promise in Phase II clinical trials when injected into patients, but it has to be injected in large quantities.

The 5-Helix protein is a potent, broad-spectrum inhibitor of HIV infection that targets a different part of the HIV coat protein than T-20. The researchers are particularly excited by the results they see in the 5-Helix protein. "We m
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Contact: Nadia Halim
halim@wi.mit.edu
617-258-7270
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
10-Jan-2001


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