HIV Test
Margaret Muchiri, a counsellor, adds a reactor to a blood sample from a woman to test for HIV at the Mater Hospital in Kenya's capital Nairobi, September 10, 2015. Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Anti-retroviral drugs have allowed HIV patients in Australia to reach their 60s and 70s without their infection developing into AIDS. In the future, there is a possibility that people with HIV would be able to live with the virus not causing any trouble.

The key to that could be the functional cure that a Queensland researcher has discovered. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that David Harrich, scientist at the QIRM Berghofer Medical Research Institute, created the “Nullbasic” protein, an antiviral protein that mutates an existing HIV protein.

Nullbasic could serve as the “off” switch for HIV. The HIV remains in the body cell but would not cause trouble such as making more virus particles, rendering the HV as a dormant virus. The amazing inhibitor potentially could be administered as a one-off treatment to cure HIV, reports Courier Mail.

Harrich, associate professor and head of the institute’s HIV molecular virology laboratory, explains that curing HIV could be done using a functional cure or a sterilising cure. The latter removes all cells infected with HIV, which means the person is no longer infected with the virus.

The study, published in the American Society for Microbiology journal, is the result of three decades of investigation. He recalls that harnessing Nullbasic was difficult since application of proteins is “not something that’s going to pop out of a lab and become an instant remedy for HIV infection.”

Harrich estimates it would take them about 10 years to turn the Nullbasic research into a functional treatment through gene therapy. Their starting point are hematopoietic cells in bone marrow which produce all the body’s blood cells. The associate professor says it is one way of delivering the protein using gene therapy by treating hematopoietic cells to express the antiviral protein.

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