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Being Alive
News from Here and There: Protein Suppresses KS and HIV

May 5, 1998
Being Alive 1998 May 5: 4

It has been suspected for some time that a substance secreted in the urine of pregnant women, something called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), suppresses Kaposi's sarcoma. Now a group of researchers from the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland reports that another urinary factor, which they call hCG-associated factor (HAF), is in fact responsible for this effect. According to a report in the April issue of Nature Medicine, these researchers found that HAF is also active against HIV.

Using techniques to chemically separate hCG and other compounds from the urine of pregnant women, Dr. Robert Gallo and his colleagues found that hCG was not responsible for the antiviral effect, but that there was evidence of "an as yet unidentified hCG-associated factor (HAF)" that was active against HIV and Kaposi's sarcoma, and which, according to animal studies, promotes activities involved in bone marrow cell production.

Thus far, the unknown protein has been only partially purified, Gallo said, "and I think we are getting close to identifying what the material actually is. It's a small protein, and it's completely separable from hCG." The finding explains why some preparations of hCG worked against Kaposi's sarcoma and some did not, he said. The anti-KS activity is due to the small protein contaminants present in some hCG preparations, he explained. "Once it's chemically identified and isolated in pure form, we can reproduce it by recombinant technology and make it in large amounts and go back to clinical work," he added.

Gallo's team is collaborating closely with Dr. Steven Birken at Columbia University, New York, in purifying HAF, which they hope will be completed within two years. Along with an anti-KS effect, HAF also exhibits a potent antiviral effect against HIV. Although not as potent as protease inhibitors, HAF is nontoxic. Studies indicate that it "promoted growth of normal bone marrow, unlike a lot of chemotherapy and antiviral therapy."

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