According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an American is infected with the HIV virus every nine and a half minutes. But new research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles provides hope for eradicating it.
Scientists from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA have identified a protein with broad virus-fighting properties that potentially could be used as a weapon against deadly human pathogenic viruses such as HIV, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah and others designated as "priority pathogens."
The protein, cholesterol-25-hydroxylase (CH25H), is an enzyme that converts cholesterol to an oxysterol called 25-hydroxycholesterol (25HC), which can permeate a cell's wall and block a virus from getting in.
Initially, scientists found that 25HC dramatically inhibited HIV in cell cultures. Next, they administered the protein in mice implanted with human tissues and found that it significantly reduced their HIV load within seven days. It was also found to reverse T-cell depletion caused by HIV.
"Antiviral genes have been hard to apply for therapeutic purposes because it is difficult to express genes in cells," said the study's lead author Su-Yang Liu. "CH25H, however, produces a natural, soluble oxysterol that can be synthesized and administered. Our initial studies showing that 25HC can inhibit HIV growth in vivo should prompt further study into membrane-modifying cholesterols that inhibit viruses."
He added that the discovery is particularly relevant to efforts to develop broad-spectrum antivirals against an increasing number of emerging viral pathogens. However, scientists involved in the study admit that 25HC is difficult to deliver in large doses. Additionally, its efficacy must still be compared to other HIV antivirals.
It's estimated that more than 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. The virus lives and reproduces in blood and other bodily fluids. If any of these fluids, including semen and vaginal fluids, enter the body, it can become infected.
Because many people with HIV do not have symptoms, health officials recommend individuals undergo an HIV test to determine if they are infected. These tests can involve a mouth swab, blood sample or urine sample.