CHICAGO, May 30 (UPI) -- The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which infects at least 50,000 people a year, has a sincere weakness -- its sweet tooth.
A new study from Northwestern University and Vanderbilt University reports that they have discovered a way to block the virus from feeding on sugar in a person's bloodstream, thus killing it off.
Researchers used an experimental compound to block an immune cell's pipeline of sugar and other nutrients and found that the virus was unable to reproduce under the less-than-sweet conditions. In addition to withholding nutrition from the harmful cells, the treatment left healthy cells alone.
The study is said to be the first of its kind to successfully result in a method to block the virus' source of energy and nutrition, or "pantry."
"This discovery opens new avenues for further research to solve today's persisting problems in treating HIV infection: avoiding virus resistance to medicines, decreasing the inflammation that leads to premature aging, and maybe even one day being able to cure HIV infection," said Dr. Richard D'Aquila of Northwestern's HIV Translational Research Center in a press release.
When HIV enters a person's bloodstream, it quickly searches for CD4+ T-cells, which are the headmasters of the immune system. Once the virus locates the cells, it steals their glucose supply and uses it to replicate.
"It's a monster that invades the cell and says 'feed me!'" says co-author Harry Taylor from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It usurps the entire production line."
This recent discovery can lead to a new method of treating HIV, since it doesn't depend on drugs the virus can learn to overcome.
"Perhaps this new approach, which slows the growth of the immune cells, could reduce the dangerous inflammation and thwart the life-long persistence of HIV," Taylor said.
The study was published in PLOS Pathogens, an online research journal, on Thursday.