Controlling the spread of HIV, the viral precursor to AIDS, is daunting but essential to getting the as-yet incurable epidemic under control. UC San Diego biochemist Leor Weinberger came up with a novel approach to the problem: he and his colleagues at San Diego and UCLA have engineered a particle that piggybacks on the virus as it moves between individuals and then competes with it once they're both inside a cell.
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In simulations, the researchers found that, over 30 years, these therapeutic interfering particles (TIPS) could reduce the number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa infected with HIV to one-thirtieth of the current level. With about 33.3 million people infected worldwide in 2009 and 68 percent of all people living with HIV located in Sub-Saharan Africa - according to the World Health Organization - this new technique's potential is tremendous.
TIPS are made from harmless fragments of HIV, omitting some key pieces of genetic information like how to self-replicate. In order to survive then, TIPS need to use DNA from the actual virus to copy themselves, meaning they cannot live on their own without the virus. The particles also contain a few gene sequences engineered to inhibit HIV and, because they derive from it, both viruses use some of the same proteins and must compete for them once inside a cell. This makes replication harder for the HIV. And since TIPS can last for years in a body, they might also help keep AIDS away for an extra 5 or 10 years.