More than 36 million people across the globe have HIV and in 2016 more than one million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
To make matters worse, inadequate supply of anti-HIV drugs in poorer countries is creating an ideal breeding ground for drug resistant variants of the virus, putting long-term patient care at risk.
Researchers from the Australian university have found a new way to analyse the pieces that form HIV, paving the way for improved treatments that work to stop the virus developing in the human body.
Deakin University’s Professor Johnson Mak said the exact way the virus formed had eluded scientists for the past 30 years, with current antivirals created from only a partial understanding of how the pieces of the virus joined together.
“Creating a virus is like building something from lots of identical LEGO blocks; it requires joining a large number of identical pieces to make something bigger, in this case an infectious particle,” Professor Mak said.
He said previous work relied on a partial version of a key protein to gain insight into how the virus worked. Researchers have developed the protein in full for the first time.
Professor Mak hoped his team’s work would go on to inform the development of new drugs that work by interfering with the formation of infectious virus particles – essentially blocking HIV from taking a hold on patients.
Research fellow Dr Hanumant Tanwar said the work, which was still in trial stages, was vital for informing drug design.
“With the system that we have developed, we are in a strong position to understand how [HIV] forms, and to gain critical insights to improve and refine this class of drugs, potentially making them work a lot better,” Dr Tanwar said.
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