AIDS drug researchers unveil a dramatic breakthrough

AIDS researchers have solved one of the most perplexing riddles that has stumped scientists in their 20-year-old hunt for effective therapies. After years of trial and error, a team of scientists in London has managed to unveil the structure of integrase, an enzyme the lethal virus uses to copy genetic material into DNA. The breakthrough may well pave the way for a new generation of AIDS drugs that are far more effective than those now in wide use.

The quest took more than four years and involved 40,000 experiments. The scientists eventually focused on an enzyme taken from the prototype foamy virus--which closely mimics HIV--in order to create a three-dimensional crystal structure of the target enzyme. And they could use that model to actually see, for the first time, how HIV drugs inhibit the virus.

"When we started out, we knew that the project was very difficult, and that many tricks had already been tried and given up by others long ago," says Peter Cherepanov of Imperial College London. "Therefore, we went back to square one and started by looking for a better model of HIV integrase, which could be more amenable for crystallization."

Now that the scientists have this key, they can use it to develop drugs that are less likely to spur resistance from HIV. AIDS killed some 2 million people in 2008, and the HIV virus infected another 2.7 million.

- check out the Imperial College release
- here's the report from the CBC

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