Engineered virus-like particles designed by researchers could slow the spread of HIV.
The particle piggybacks on the AIDS virus as it moves between individuals and then competes with it once they're both inside a cell, reports Discovery News.
Leor Weinberger and his colleagues from UC San Diego and UCLA found that these therapeutic interfering particles (TIPS) could reduce the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa infected with HIV to one-thirtieth of the current level in about 30 years.
With about 33.3 million people infected worldwide in 2009, this new technique's potential is tremendous.
TIPS are made from harmless fragments of HIV, omitting some key pieces of genetic information like how to self-replicate. In order to survive then, TIPS need to use DNA from the actual virus to copy themselves, meaning they cannot live on their own without the virus.
The particles also contain a few gene sequences engineered to inhibit HIV and, because they derive from it, both viruses use some of the same proteins and must compete for them once inside a cell.
This makes replication harder for the HIV. And since TIPS can last for years in a body, they might also help keep AIDS away for an extra 5 or 10 years.
The most rampant-spreaders of HIV tend to be intravenous drug users and sex workers, who are often more difficult to reach for prevention and drug treatment, leading to their disproportionately higher rates of infection. TIPS, with its latent virus-on-virus method of attack, could be a phenomenal way to address HIV infection in this group.
Beyond simulations and cell cultures though, TIPS has not yet been tested in humans, though.