Deakin University scientists have found a new way to analyse the pieces that form HIV, paving the way for improved treatments that work to stop the virus developing in the human body.
Senior researcher Professor Johnson Mak, from Deakin's Centre for Molecular and Medical Research, said the exact way the virus formed had eluded scientists for the past 30 years, with current antivirals created from only a partial understanding of how the pieces joined together.
Professor Mak hopes his team's work will go on to inform the development of new drugs that work by interfering with the formation of infectious virus particles - essentially blocking HIV from taking a hold on patients.
The researchers can now ensure the drugs are effectively targeting the pieces they have analysed.
"Creating a virus is like building something from lots of identical LEGO blocks, it requires joining a large number of identical pieces to make something bigger, in this case an infectious particle," Professor Mak explained.
"In the case of HIV, these individual blocks are a protein known as Pr55Gag.
"The production of the complete version of this protein has been a major challenge in the HIV field for the past 30 years. Previous works relied on a partial version of this protein to gain insight into how the virus forms.
"But through this work we have been able to develop the protein in full for the first time."
The Deakin scientists' findings were recently published in PLoS Pathogens, with a paper titled, 'The thermodynamics of Pr55Gag-RNA interaction regulate the assembly of HIV'.
Lead author Dr Hanumant Tanwar, a research fellow in Deakin's School of Medicine, said the work was vital for informing drug design.
"At the moment these drugs are still in the trial stage, and the refinement of this class of drugs have been limited by the biochemical and biophysical information available in this area, making it very hard to improve these drugs," Dr Tanwar said.
"With the system that we have developed, we are in a strong position to understand how the virus forms, and to reveal critical insights to improve and refine these drugs, potentially making this class of drug work a lot better."
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, in 2015 an estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV, and in the same year 1.1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
"Inadequate supply of anti-HIV drugs in low- and middle-income countries has created an ideal breeding ground for the emergence of drug resistant HIV, which threatens the long-term effectiveness of patient care using existing anti-HIV agents," Professor Mak said.
"The development of effective and affordable new antivirals is critical in helping millions of HIV-infected people in these regions."
The team's research was supported by CSIRO Manufacturing.
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