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Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 16, 2013
A cure for AIDS may not be too far. Tweaking a protein in HIV, the virus that causes the disease, to stop it from replicating can protect people against AIDS, Australian scientists have found.

The modified protein won't stop infection but will prevent it from spreading and destroying the immune system.

Persons infected with HIV are said to have AIDS when their CD4 immune system cells drops below 200 per microlitre of blood and they are too weak to fight infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, which eventually turn fatal.

"The virus might infect a cell but it wouldn't spread," said Dr David Harrich, associate professor at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, who published his study in the journal Human Gene Therapy.

"With this treatment, you would maintain a healthy immune system." http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/1/17_01_13-metro1.jpg

The mutated protein will give people with HIV a better quality of life without having to take multiple drug regimes, which will lower treatment costs -- for individuals as well as governments.

"I consider that this is fighting fire with fire because what we've actually done is taken a normal virus protein that the virus requires to grow, and we've changed this protein so that instead of assisting the virus, it actually impedes virus replication and it does it quite strongly," said Dr Harrich, who worked on human cells.

His team will start animal trials this year. Human trials will take another five years.

Globally, 34 million people have HIV and AIDS, says UNAIDS 2012 global report. AIDS killed 1.7 million in 2011, the last year for which data is available.

India has 2.39 million people living with HIV, down from the peak of 5.7 million in 2006.

UNAIDS credits the fall in the numbers to improved data collection and an actual fall in new infections.