Since it’s recognition in 1981, the HIV virus has torn a path of destruction through the world’s population. No cure has been found for the virus which has killed more than 25 million people. In 2005 alone, the virus claimed more than 2 million lives. At the present about 40 million are living with the virus that causes AIDS, and there is no cure in sight.
However, in the recent years, scientists have made awesome strides in helping people with the disease live longer. The latest discovery is a molecule known as interleukin 7. Interleukin 7, a naturally occurring molecule, is a crucial part of the human immune system, helping it to function correctly.
Dr. Paolo Lusso worked with a group of scientists on the project and found some promising discoveries. According to the report published by the National Academy of Scientists, interleukin 7 “is a substance important in maintaining proper functioning of the immune system.” The team of scientists looked at the role of the molecule in helping T cells to remain alive.
This is important to note because the HIV virus hides itself in certain T cells. When they lodge there, the virus causes the T cells to commit cellular suicide, which is called apoptosis. With T cells gone, the body lacks the ability to defend itself against various infections and cancers. The virus even caused the death of cells that aren’t directly connected to the ones infected with HIV.
The team of scientists used the samples of 24 HIV infected people to conduct this study. Interleukin 7 was placed in the sample. After 7 days, the blood samples showed lower numbers of cellular death. However, interleukin 7 was not used on any live patients.
Dr. Lia Vassena noted that the finding is important, because the molecule could be used along with other HIV medication to curtail the effects of the virus. Since apoptosis plays a big part of how cells die in AIDS, the molecule could help in preventing cellular suicides. Lusso expressed “reasonable optimism” that the discovery would lead to some beneficial results.
Even though they are optimistic, the researchers still need to conduct more tests. “I don’t think one solution will be applicable to all the patients. It’s possible that IL-7 (interleukin 7) may benefit some patients and do nothing in other cases,” Lusso said in an interview. “But I think we are moving in the right direction because we are starting to appreciate that antiretroviral therapy alone (existing AIDS drug treatment) is not sufficient to bring back a full immune competence, and we are starting to identify at least some strategies that may work.”
Let’s hope that the research brings promising results.
Will Dunham. “Scientists Explore Possible New Way to Fight AIDS.” Yahoo. URL: (http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070205/sc_nm/aids_immune_dc)
Human immunodeficiency virus. Wikipedia. URL: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiv)