Dr. Robert Gallo and a team of scientists at the National Cancer Institute say they have found three chemicals made by the body that block the progress of AIDS a discovery that may explain why a few of those infected never become sick, and that could lead to new treatments for the deadly illness.
Those chemicals are part of a class of proteins called chemokines that normally serve as lowly messengers for the body’s immune system, said Gallo, head of the University of Maryland’s new Institute of Human Virology. But they become giant-killers when they confront the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, somehow preventing HIV from making copies of itself.
A team of German researchers, meanwhile, report this week that they have found a fourth protein made by the body that may also curb the virus’s ability to replicate. The chemical is called interleuken-16.
All four proteins are manufactured by the same type of white blood cells, called CD8 cells.
Several AIDS researchers said they were intrigued and surprised by the findings, which are expected to trigger a race among laboratories around the world to learn more about HIV suppressors.
“For patients, no matter how you cut it, this is a significant step,” said Gallo. At a minimum, he said, the discovery points to promising new paths for research. Perhaps, he said, the proteins might be used to halt the spread of the infection.