A researcher at the Molecular Virology Laboratory, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Associate Professor David Harrich,  has determined  how to modify a protein in the HIV virus, so that it instead provides strong, lasting protection from infection.

Associate Professor Harrich, who runs the only research laboratory and containment facilities in Queensland working with the HIV virus, said the research could potentially lead to a cure for AIDS. 

He invented the “Nullbasic” protein by mutating an existing HIV protein.  It has shown remarkable abilities to stop the virus replicating in a lab environment.

“I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time,” Associate Professor Harrich said.

“You would still be infected with HIV, it’s not a cure for the virus. But the virus would stay latent, it wouldn’t wake up, so it wouldn’t develop into AIDS. With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system.”

The successful development of this type of one-off treatment would also have economic implications.  HIV patients currently take a regime of drugs for the rest of their lives, which can be a significant financial burden.

Associate Professor Harrich has been researching HIV for thirty years, since starting as a research assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the early 1980s when the first cases of HIV/AIDS emerged.

“I’ve come close to giving up in the past.  But today I’m so encouraged. I feel very fortunate because not a lot of scientists are able to stay in the same game long enough to see these sorts of developments. It involves perseverance, dedication and, of course, sustained research funding.

Associate Professor Harrich’s research is funded by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship.

This research is published in the current issue of Human Gene Therapy and can be found online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23298160