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HIV Capsid Protein

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine are one step closer to creating effective anti-viral drugs for HIV.

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the virus that eventually leads a patient to the development of AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system, making people susceptible to disease and turning even the common cold into a deadly toxin.

Scientists in the MU School of Medicine have captured a clear image of the HIV protein, which helps them better understand the function of the protein in the life of the virus. Drugs in the past years have proven effective, but eventually the HIV proteins develop a resistance and the drugs are obsolete.

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Dr. Stefan Sarafianos

Dr. Stefan Sarafianos, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Science, said researchers are working to find new ‘weak sites’ of HIV to target and attack.

“Drugs typically … work in a ‘lock-and-key’ kind of mechanism,” Dr. Sarafianos explained. “To make a key, you need to know what the lock looks like.”

Finding the image allows scientists to design drugs more appropriately, a method Dr. Sarafianos referred to as ‘structure-based drug design.’ While the discovery is a step forward for science, it may not be a step toward a final cure.

” … this may never happen,” Dr. Sarafianos said. “Having said that, the drugs have been very helpful in controlling the symptoms of the disease, and keep the virus in a dormant state. So while we won’t have a cure, at least not with this strategy or the ones that are around right now, we will have something that will help us keep the virus under control.”

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HIV Protein Building Blocks

Researchers used X-ray crystallography to construct the image based on the way light refracted when it made contact with the protein. By interpreting the refraction, the team created the 3-D model, which revealed the necessity of water molecules for the stability of the protein.

The National Institutes of Health granted Dr. Sarafianos’s research team almost $2.3 million to continue the research in partnership with the University of Minnesota. He said he is grateful for the opportunity and hopes to continue advancing medicine, not just for HIV patients, but all.

“A lot of us think that research that has to do with HIV gives benefits, provides benefits, only for HIV patients,” Dr. Sarafianos said. “I want to offer a though that is actually not the case. A lot of the money that has been spent for studying this virus has a direct ramification and benefits for other viral diseases and other infections.”

Click below to hear KMZU’s Andy Campbell speak with associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Missouri School of Science, Dr. Stefan Sarafianos:
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