Ancient defense studied as way to fight HIV

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com November 06 2002 1:00 AM ET

An ancient defense mechanism used by plants, worms, and other lower species to fight off viruses may be effective in helping humans to fight off HIV, Reuters Health reports. Called RNA interference, the process uses small pieces of RNA that interfere with and degrade messenger RNA, the genetic materials that translate DNA instructions for synthesizing proteins. The process could be used in human cells to specifically target and degrade messenger RNA that contains instructions for making key HIV proteins, thereby preventing the cell from being able to copy the virus.

"We thought it would be a good idea to harness it to combat viral infection--in particular, HIV," said Judy Lieberman of the Center for Blood Research in Boston, who has conducted similar research on RNA interference.

Researchers are now expanding their work to examine how to get bits of interfering RNA into human cells and to keep the genetic snippets stable until they're needed to shut down HIV protein replication. The full study appears in the October 24 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.