How our immune system detects and fights HIV


Africa remains the most affected continent by HIV than any other regions of the world. The continent account for 69 percent of people living with HIV globally.

Despite positive trends in fighting against the scourge, in 2011 there were still 1.8 million new HIV infections across the continent, and 1.2 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses, according to Health World Organisation (WHO).

The death toll will have a severe impact on many economies in the region. Some nations are already feeling it, with the largest portions of national health budgets going to the caring for HIV victims.

AIDS is also killing the most economically productive age groups in Africa and in the process has reduced life expectancy in some nations.

Although AIDS-related deaths have been on steady decline globally since 2005, scientists continue with their struggle to find a cure to the devastating virus that continues to kill more than 1.5 million people every year.

In this edition, I would like to share with you a very interesting research by Danish researchers on how a human body’s defense system is activated once the HIV virus infects a cell and how this helps it protect itself against the virus.

The new research makes no promise of a cure but it could provide doctors with new insights on how to deal with the pandemic, says Martin Roelsgaard Jakobsen.

Jakobsen, an associate professor in the department of biomedicine, headed the international study together with Professor Soren Riis Paludan from Aarhus University in Denmark.

It is the first time that researchers have described how our immune system detects HIV, indicating that boosting ‘alarm proteins’ could clear the pathway for future treatments. Researchers have revealed the mechanism that sends the body into alarm mode when HIV virus invades our cells.

According to the article carried by Science Nordic online blog, researchers have unlocked the mechanism that triggers the body alarm when the HIV virus invades our cells. A special ‘alarm protein’ detects strings of HIV DNA, triggering an immune response before the virus has time to take over the cell.

Researchers around the world have spent many years working on developing medicine that inhibits the body's production of viruses.

And the new study by Danish experts is crucial in the sense that it is one of the first in the area, which focuses on the so-called innate immune system.

This part of the immune system is inborn and is the first to be activated when we are attacked by infection. The second part of the immune system ‑ the adaptive ‑ is activated at a later stage.

This is also the system, which may be influenced by vaccines. HIV research has, therefore, been almost exclusively focused on the adaptive immune system in the attempt to develop an HIV vaccine.

Studies of people infected by HIV have registered a degree of “excessive activation” of the immune system, which contributes to the development of AIDS.

But until now what has been missing is knowledge on how the immune system is able to trace the HIV virus and, more precisely, which positive and negative reactions this leads to in the immune system. It is here that the study contributes with fundamental new knowledge.

“We have succeeded in finding the protein in the cells that recognises the HIV infection, as well as the part of the virus that is discovered.

“At the same time, we can demonstrate how the recognition activates the first defensive responses in the body, thereby inhibiting the virus in developing the cell into an uncontrolled virus production machine” says Jakobsen.

Professor Jakobsen said such knowledge will extend the understanding of the mechanisms of HIV infection and paves the way for a number of new studies, which can bring people closer to improved treatment.

However, the new findings suggest that part of the solution to better treatment must be found in the innate immune system.

“If we can come to understand the immune system's protective as well as harmful activities during a HIV infection, we can potentially utilise this knowledge to curb the harmful functions and stimulate the protective activities.

The more knowledge we have, the better we are equipped to be able to develop new anti-viral treatments.

I concur with the commentators that the results from this study are certainly a step further in the right direction in fight humankind’s effort to fight last solution to HIV/AIDS pandemic.

November 2013
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