Working with mice infected with HIV, the team used a Nobel Prize-winning method called ribonucleic acid interference, or RNAi, to disable the expression of three genes in T cells. That protects the cells from HIV, while preventing the transmission of HIV to other cells in the mice, the researchers said.
"For the first time, we've used RNAi to dramatically suppress HIV infection in an organism," said Professor Premlata Shankar, who led the study while at Harvard University, but who is now at Texas Tech University.
Georg Fey of the University of Erlangen in Germany developed a method of transporting the interfering RNA molecules to the surface of T cells. Lee Sang-kyung of Hanyang University in South Korea discovered a way to get the molecules directly into the T cells.
The scientists say their technique might supplement or replace the drug cocktails prescribed for HIV patients, thereby reducing the sometimes harsh side effects of treatment.
The study is reported in the online issue of the journal Cell.