Enlisting the AIDS virus to fight cancer

Infographic representation of the HIV contamination process. © CNRS Photothèque/www.gregcirade.com

(Medical Xpress)—Can HIV be transformed into a biotechnological tool for improving human health? According to a CNRS team at the Architecture et Réactivité de l'ARN (RNA Architecture and Reactivity) laboratory, the answer is yes. Taking advantage of the HIV replication machinery, the researchers have been able to select a specific mutant protein. Added to a culture of tumor cells in combination with an anticancer drug, this protein improves the effectiveness of the treatment at 1/300 the normal dosage levels. Published in PLoS Genetics on 23 August 2012, these findings could lead to long-term therapeutic applications in the treatment of cancer and other pathologies.

The (HIV), which causes AIDS, uses human cell material to multiply, primarily by inserting its genetic material into the host cells' genome (see illustration below). The distinctive characteristic of HIV is that it mutates constantly, and consequently generates several mutant proteins (or variants) in the course of its successive multiplications. This phenomenon allows the virus to adapt to repeated environmental changes and resist the antiviral treatments that have been developed so far.

At the IBMC (Institut de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire) in Strasbourg, the researchers of the CNRS Architecture et Réactivité de l'ARN laboratory had the idea of using this multiplication strategy to rechannel the effects of the virus for therapeutic purposes, in particular the treatment of cancer.

They first altered the by introducing a human gene that is found in all cells: the gene for deoxycytidine kinase (dCK), a protein that activates anticancer drugs.  Researchers have been trying to produce a more effective form of dCK for several years. Through HIV multiplication, the CNRS team has selected a "library" of nearly 80 mutant proteins and tested them on tumor cells in the presence of an anticancer drug. The results have enabled them to identify a dCK variant that is more effective than the wild-type (non-mutated) protein, inducing the death of tumor cells in culture. In combination with this protein, the anticancer drugs showed identical effectiveness at 1/300 the dose. The possibility of reducing the doses of anticancer drugs would palliate the problems posed by their components' toxicity, reduce their side effects and, most importantly, improve their effectiveness.

One advantage of this experimental technique is that the mutant proteins were tested directly on cells in culture. The next step in the years to come will be preclinical (animal) studies on the isolated . In addition, this experimental system using a normally life-threatening virus is likely to lead to a great many other therapeutic applications.

More information: Retrovolution: HIV-driven Evolution of Cellular Genes and Improvement of Anticancer Drug Activation, Rossolillo P., Winter F., Simon-Loriere E., Gallois-Montbrun S. and Negroni M. PLoS Genetics, 23 August 2012.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Cells have a natural defense against HIV

Mar 14, 2006

Scientists here have discovered a previously unknown mechanism that cells use to fight off the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. The findings indicate that two proteins that normally help repair cellular ...

Recommended for you

Science of romantic relationships includes gene factor

14 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—Adolescents worry about passing tests, winning games, lost phones, fractured bones—and whether or not they will ever really fall in love. Three Chinese researchers have focused on that ...

Stress reaction may be in your dad's DNA, study finds

Nov 21, 2014

Stress in this generation could mean resilience in the next, a new study suggests. Male mice subjected to unpredictable stressors produced offspring that showed more flexible coping strategies when under ...

More genetic clues found in a severe food allergy

Nov 21, 2014

Scientists have identified four new genes associated with the severe food allergy eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Because the genes appear to have roles in other allergic diseases and in inflammation, the ...

Brain-dwelling worm in UK man's head sequenced

Nov 20, 2014

For the first time, the genome of a rarely seen tapeworm has been sequenced. The genetic information of this invasive parasite, which lived for four years in a UK resident's brain, offers new opportunities ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.