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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006, 13:30 GMT
Chemical 'blocks HIV infection'
A cell infected with HIV - Science Photo Library
The compound appears to stop HIV getting in to cells
A chemical has been identified which could halt the progress of HIV, US scientists say.

Lab tests of the chemical - CSA-54 - at Vanderbilt University show it disables the virus's ability to infect cells.

It was shown to attack HIV in a new way - targeting the membrane of the virus to stop it locking on to cells.

UK experts said the research was interesting - but warned a great deal more research was needed before its true value could be known.

We will need to see tests on humans before we can know its true value
Roger Pebody, Terrence Higgins Trust

The family of chemicals from which CSA-54 come - ceragenins - are synthetically produced small molecule chemical compounds.

They were developed by scientists at Brigham Young University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and are licensed to a company called Ceragenix Pharmaceuticals, which sponsored this research.

The compounds work by being electrostatically attracted to the negatively charged cell membranes of certain viruses, fungi and bacteria, the researchers say.

This mechanism is also seen in antimicrobial chemicals in the body's immune system.

Hype 'unwanted'

HIV specifically targets a type of immune cell called at CD4+ cell for infection.

The lab tests showed CSA-54 blocked infection by disrupting HIV's ability to interact with the cells.

But it was not toxic to skin cells when tested at higher concentrations than those needed to disable the virus.

Dr Derya Unutmaz, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who carried out the tests, told the Salt Lake Tribune: "We have some preliminary but very exciting results.

"But we would like to formally show this before making any claims that would cause unwanted hype."

He added: "This is particularly important as a compound that targets the viral membrane is likely to be effective against all strains of the virus, regardless of mutations as the viral membrane remains unchanged."

UK experts agreed the study was an interesting development.

Most HIV treatments attack the virus when it has already infected a cell.

Roger Pebody, Terrence Higgins Trust's treatment advisor said: "This is a novel approach to stopping the virus infecting other cells.

"However it is very early test tube research and is many years away from clinical trials. We will need to see tests on humans before we can know its true value."

Nicola Douglas, of the National Aids Trust said: "Any research which offers hope of a cure for HIV is extremely welcome.

"In the last few years, HIV treatments have come a long way towards giving people longevity and quality of life, but Aids continues to kill more people worldwide than any other infectious disease."

Brigham Young University and Vanderbilt have jointly filed a patent on the compounds.

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