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273 New Possible Targets for HIV Drugs

Hundreds of Human Proteins Essential to HIV Survival Discovered
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Experts Say Finding Is Major Advance continued...

"This study uses new technology to come up with questions we really didn't know how to ask. And it points to areas and systems in the host cells we weren't aware were important," Haynes tells WebMD.

With the exception of a single new agent, all existing HIV drugs target proteins made by HIV itself. Because HIV mutates rapidly, it eventually develops resistance to these drugs by slightly changing its proteins.

The AIDS virus would have a much harder time getting around drugs that target the human proteins it needs. On the other hand, drugs that attack human proteins could do harm if the proteins turn out to be crucial to humans, too.

One hopeful finding is that some people carry a mutant version of one of the proteins identified by the Elledge team, apparently with no harmful consequences. This mutant version of the protein, Haynes and colleagues recently learned, is found in some of the rare individuals who do not progress to AIDS when they become infected with HIV.

"One of the critical challenges of HIV research is to learn as much about the virus as we can, as fast as possible," Haynes tells WebMD. "Studies like this have the potential to move our knowledge forward quickly, which is important given the growing worldwide epidemic of HIV and AIDS."

The findings have broad significant beyond AIDS research. They show that the same techniques can be used to dissect the workings of other viruses -- and of cancers. Elledge says his team is now looking for the Achilles' heels of cancer cells.

Elledge and colleagues report their findings in the Jan. 10 issue of the online journal Science Express.

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