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Determining protein structure will help cure AIDS

The UK's National Physical Laboratory is involved in a joint venture that is helping to better understand the structure of the AIDS virus protein, an understanding that could lead to the development of innovative drugs.

Schematic diagram of HIV
Schematic diagram of HIV
In May 2010, the project team, which includes biotechnology experts from the National Laboratory, the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and the IBM Research Center, published part of the research findings in the scientific journal Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

The research aims to resolve a controversy regarding the structure of part of the HIV virus protein. The research team presents a defined structure of the protein, obtained through experimental methods and computer simulations. It is important to know the exact structure of viral proteins so that researchers who develop drugs against the disease can find weak points in the virus and thus develop better treatments for humans.

Researcher Eleonora Cerasoli says: "In this study, we focused on a part of the HIV virus that helps it merge with, and then infect, healthy cells inside the human body. By verifying the structure of this tiny, but significant segment of the HIV-1 virus protein, we are helping to shed more light on its infection mechanism. We hope that further research in this field will lead to a full understanding of its exact mechanism of action, and consequently, to the development of better treatments against AIDS."

In order to continue their efforts in understanding the interactions between human cells and the proteins of the HIV virus, the research team will also use a unique particle accelerator. The insights generated from these findings will be able to advance the next steps in effective drug design and their commercial exploitation.

This research is the first input of various experiments carried out by this research team regarding important biomedical model systems. Therefore, the general scope is beyond understanding the structure of the HIV virus alone. The team is working on determining the structure-activity relationships that will also advance the understanding and treatment of other diseases, such as Alzheimer's.

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