An Australian researcher has announced a breakthrough in the fight against HIV that could result in a possible cure for AIDS.

Associate Professor David Harrich, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research’s Molecular Virology Laboratory, has found how to modify a protein in the HI virus so that it provides strong, lasting protection from infection.

He invented the “Nullbasic” protein by mutating an existing HIV protein and, he says, it’s shown remarkable abilities to stop the HI virus replicating in a lab environment.

“This is like fighting fire with fire,” Harrich said, adding that “If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are a many hurdles to clear, we’re looking at a cure for AIDS.”

Harrich explained that patients would remain infected with HIV and so it’s not a cure for the virus. However, the modified protein would keep the virus latent.

“…it wouldn’t wake up, so it wouldn’t develop into AIDS. With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system. I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time,” Harrich said.

The successful development of this one-off treatment would also have economic implications as it would replace the current regime of drugs that patients are required to stay on for the rest of their lives.

Associate Professor Harrich has been researching HIV for thirty years, since starting as a research assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the early 1980s when the first cases of HIV/AIDS emerged.

“I’ve come close to giving up in the past. But today I’m so encouraged. I feel very fortunate because not a lot of scientists are able to stay in the same game long enough to see these sorts of developments. It involves perseverance, dedication and, of course, sustained research funding,” he said.

Animal trials are due to start this year. The research has been published in the journal Human Gene Therapy.

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