A group of US and European scientists have discovered a way to prevent the HIV virus from harming the immune system, in a breakthrough that could lead to an entirely new approach to fighting AIDS. They discovered that by extracting cholesterol, they could render the virus a sitting duck for the immune system’s adaptive response. “It’s like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognize it and attack it,” the study’s leader explained to Reuters.
HIV harms the immune system by provoking an intense initial response that in turn weakens the subsequent adaptive response. “It’s like revving your car in first gear for too long,” the lead author said. “Eventually, the engine blows out.” Past vaccine attempts may have been unsuccessful in part because they were relying on the adaptive response. But drain the cholesterol from the virus, and suddenly it doesn’t produce that initial response, and the adaptive response can deal with it.