WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A natural body protein usually
associated with cystic fibrosis might be enlisted in the fight
against AIDS because it shuts down the HIV
virus , researchers said on Friday.
The protein, called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), seems to prevent
the AIDS virus from infecting cells, the team at the University
of Colorado Health Sciences Center reports.
"In the laboratory, we confirmed the surprising observation
that the AIDS virus did not grow in blood," Dr. Leland
Shapiro, an assistant professor of medicine who led the study,
said in a statement.
"This suggested that there was at least one substance in the
blood that blocked the virus. We believe we have identified one
of the substances as AAT."
In a study to be published in the Federation of the American
Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, Shapiro and
colleagues said AAT works in several ways against the virus.
Looking at blood donated to the American Red Cross, Shapiro and
colleagues saw the HIV virus did not proliferate when added to
blood from healthy volunteers, but it did when added to blood
from patients who had genetic defects that caused them to have
low levels of AAT.
They also found, working in the laboratory, that AAT blocked
the ability of the virus to infect previously healthy,
And in cells infected with HIV, adding AAT to the lab dish
virtually stopped the virus's ability to spread out of the
Shapiro said it may be that the virus reproduces in areas
naturally low in AAT. They think it might be possible to give
extra AAT to HIV-infected patients.
"These findings are preliminary but promising," Shapiro said.
"If clinical results are as promising as what we have seen in
the laboratory, methods of increasing AAT or use of an AAT
'mimic' might be an effective form of AIDS therapy."
He said he would propose running tests in humans.
AAT is used to treat patients with cystic fibrosis and other
genetic defects. It is being grown in the milk of genetically
engineered animals by PPL Therapeutics, the Scotland-based
company involved in cloning the first mammal, Dolly the sheep,