Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has become well known among medical professionals and researchers in the past few decades as they continue to search for a cure. Many methods of controlling the symptoms of the virus already exist such as ART (anti-retroviral therapy) or HIV medications; however, the use of antibodies in fighting the disease is beginning to grow in popularity and potential. Antibodies are proteins that the body produces to help identify and destroy viruses and bacteria that may cause harm. The scientific interest in antibodies is extremely important because they provide a step forward to find a potential cure for HIV. A team of scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has been recently working on a new method of introducing mRNA that codes for antibody proteins in live subjects that could act as a means to treat HIV.
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The use of mRNA to code for therapeutic proteins has been prevalent for quite some time, but there is a potential problem with the injection of mRNA into patients: it would trigger their immune system into treating the mRNA as a foreign invading body. In this case, the patients could suffer from potentially harmful side effects. Dr. Drew Weissman and a few of his colleagues recognized the possibility of modifying mRNAs that already exist in the body in order to avoid triggering any immune system responses and produce proteins efficiently over a long period of time. According to Dr. Weissman from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, there are already clinical trials involving anti-HIV antibodies, but he believes that their approach with the mRNA would be very effective to antibody therapies.
Currently, researchers are studying the therapeutic potential of modified mRNAs that will code for the anti-HIV antibody, VRC01. Norbert Pardi, PhD, of the Weissman Lab, conducted an experiment that involved the injection of a small amount of the mRNAs that code for the production of the VRC01 antibody into mice. The antibody bound to a site on the HIV virus that prevents it from destroying T-cells, which are a target of the HIV virus and are responsible for destroying any cells that can cause harm to the immune system.
They also concluded that a small injection once a week was enough to maintain sufficient levels of the VRC01 antibody in the patient. This injection did not trigger the defense mechanisms of the patients’ immune system, solving the problem of introducing foreign materials into the body that researchers had faced before.
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Each new experiment brings researchers and doctors closer to developing a therapy for patients with HIV and to protecting those who don’t. This new technique of modifying mRNAs to produce antibody proteins to fight against the effects of HIV may become the next breakthrough in modern day medicine.
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