A team of researchers led by King's College London has for the first time identified a new gene which may have the ability to prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, from spreading after it enters the body.
Published in Nature today, the study is the first to identify a role for the human MX2 gene in inhibiting HIV. Researchers say this gene could be a new target for effective, less toxic treatments where the body's own natural defence system is mobilised against the virus.
The work was funded by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. The study was also supported by the Wellcome Trust and European Commission.
Scientists carried out experiments on human cells in the lab, introducing the virus to two different cell lines and observing the effects. In one cell line the MX2 gene was expressed or 'switched on', and in the other it was not, or 'silenced'. They saw that in the cells where MX2 was silenced, the virus replicated and spread. In the cells where the MX2 gene was expressed, the virus was not able to replicate and new viruses were not produced.
The work was led by Dr Caroline Goujon and Professor Mike Malim at the Department of Infectious Diseases, King's College London. Professor Malim said: "This is an extremely exciting finding which advances our understanding of how HIV virus interacts with the immune system and opens up opportunities to develop new therapies to treat the disease. Until now we knew very little about the MX2 gene, but now we recognise both its potent anti-viral function and a key point of vulnerability in the life cycle of HIV.
"Developing drugs to stimulate the body's natural inhibitors is a very important approach because you are triggering a natural process and therefore won't have the problem of drug resistance. There are two possible routes – it may be possible to develop either a molecule that mimics the role of MX2 or a drug which activates the gene's natural capabilities.
"Although people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives with the virus thanks to current effective treatments, they can often be toxic for the body and drug resistance can become an issue with long-term use.
It is important to continue to find new ways of mobilising the body's natural defence systems and this gene appears to be a key player in establishing viral control in people with HIV."
For further information please contact Katya Nasim, Press Officer (International) at King's College London, on 0207 848 3840 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Embargoed until: 18.00 London time on 18 September 2013
Notes to editors:
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2012/13 QS World University Rankings), and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 25,000 students (of whom more than 10,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar.
It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners.
King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: http://www.kingshealthpartners.org.
Over the past century, the Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed.
Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. http://www.mrc.ac.uk
The MRC Centenary Timeline chronicles 100 years of life-changing discoveries and shows how our research has had a lasting influence on healthcare and wellbeing in the UK and globally, right up to the present day. http://www.centenary.mrc.ac.uk
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (http://www.nihr.ac.uk).