Scientists Make New AIDS Breakthrough

Researchers say a new discovery puts them one step closer to developing an AIDS vaccine.

Posted: 09/20/2011 02:28 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered a way to keep HIV from damaging an infected person’s immune system; an advancement they say may put science one step closer to developing a vaccine for the disease.


When a person is infected with HIV, the body's immune response responds by attempting to defend the body from attack, but researchers say that the HIV virus causes the immune system to overreact, weakening the body’s defenses.


“HIV is very sneaky," Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London, who led the study, told Reuters. "It evades the host's defenses by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. It's like revving your car in first gear for too long — eventually the engine blows out.”


However, scientists found that removing cholesterol from the virus's membrane "disarmed" the HIV virus and made it unable to burn out the immune system, thus making treatment more effective.


"It's like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognize it and attack it," Boasso said.


Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, the University of Milan and Innsbruck University in Austria worked together on the research published in Blood, the journal of the American Society of Hematology, Monday.


Each year, 1.8 million people die from AIDS worldwide and an estimated 33.3 million people are living with the virus.


AIDS has taken a disproportionately disastrous toll on Black communities around the world. The last figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control show that African-Americans account for nearly half of all people living in the U.S. with the disease. In sub-Saharan Africa an estimated 22.5 million people were living with the disease in 2009