HIV/AIDS may no longer be a death sentence these days, but we still lack a true cure for the disease. The problem is, HIV/AIDS is a tricky disease to fight because the virus itself is constantly changing. To cure it, scientists need to find something common to all strains of HIV/AIDS that they can use as a target.
Fortunately, there are a few things common to all HIV/AIDS strains. Specifically, a protein found on the outer shell of the virus, known as “Env”. Protruding from this protein is a specific molecule that is able to attach itself to certain receptors in our immune cells, namely “CD4” and “CCR5”. One way to defeat the virus then, could be to make “dummy” CD4 and CCR5 receptors and attach them to junk proteins, i.e. proteins that aren’t used for anything. This essentially neutralizes the virus, since it is now attached to what it “thinks” is a cell, but actually isn’t. And since there is no cell to infect, there is no way for the virus to make copies of itself anymore. To successfully carry out such a treatment though, you would somehow need a constant supply of these decoys in your bloodstream.
So how do you mass produce something like this in the body? Gene therapy! You inject your cells with a harmless virus whose sole purpose in life is to make these “dummy” receptors. Sounds easy, right? Well it actually is pretty difficult to pull off. There is some promise though. As Lynne Terry of Oregon Live reports, researchers have successfully conducted this form of therapy in rhesus monkeys. That being said, gene therapy in humans is still in its infancy, and has major issues of its own. And of course, like most things in the pharmaceutical industry, it will be a long time before we see anything like this used in humans because of all the hoops and safety regulations researchers must go through.