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MIT Team Finds Way To Inhibit HIV Early

Team includes Harvard lab

A team of researchers led by scientists at MIT announced in a report published Monday that they had discovered a way to shut down HIV before it would develop into AIDS.

The scientists, which include researchers from Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, have identified a form of ribonucleic acid called “short interfering RNA” (siRNA) that inhibits viruses from replicating and entering healthy cells—a finding they said could lead to advances in fighting HIV and possibly other viral infections.

The report was published Monday in the online form of the journal Natural Medicine.

Carl D. Novina, one of the MIT researchers, described the two experiments that led the scientists to conclude that siRNA can inhibit viral infections.

First, Novina said, the nine researchers introduced siRNA into two different kinds of cells—healthy cells and HIV.

Novina said the scientists found the healthy cell with siRNA to be more resistant to HIV.

In the second experimental procedure, the researchers attacked HIV itself.

Novina said they found that siRNA effectively inhibited HIV from replicating.

By successfully attacking HIV at two points in its lifecycle simply with siRNA—before and after it enters a healthy cell—the researchers said they hope injecting siRNA could become an effective procedure to combat many different pathogens.

“You can conceivably do that for any pathogenic cell you don’t want,” Novina said.

But Novina cautioned that much more work must be done before a similar treatment could be applied to living organisms, including humans.

“One of the main limitations is the delivery of siRNA to host organisms,” he said. “That is what the most important next step is in moving from cell cultures to becoming theraputic.”

Although the results cannot lead immediately to medical advances, Novina said he was pleased with the findings.

He suggested that combinations of siRNA could eventually be used as an effective drug cocktail.

—Staff writer Katherine M. Dimengo can be reached at dimengo@fas.harvard.edu.

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