Researchers under the guidance of the IrsiCaixa Aids Research Institute, promoted by the Fundació “la Caixa” and the Department of Health of the Generalitat de Catalunya, have demonstrated that when HIV-infected cells generate viral proteins, they also generate defective proteins that produce an immune response. It has even been demonstrated in the laboratory that this immune response is capable of blocking the virus’s infection cycle. These proteins, generated due to errors in the different mechanisms that are carried out by cells in the time period spanning from when they are first penetrated by the virus to when it starts to multiply, represent possible novel therapeutic targets.
In the study published today in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, ICREA research professor and researcher of IrsiCaixa Christian Brander, who is currently also the scientific coordinator of the ambitious HIVACAT HIV vaccine research project, has coordinated a group of researchers from IrsiCaixa and researchers from Harvard University, in Boston, Microsoft Research and British Columbia, in Canada, with the shared aim of finding new targets against HIV. The study has analysed the genetic information of over 600 individuals and over 500 variants of the virus.
Up until now, studies were mainly aimed at studying the immune response against HIV and how the immune system interacts with the virus’s proteins, but had not focused on the proteins that are generated by errors in the translation of the virus’s genes.
Studies carried out up until now had demonstrated that the immune response against each of the “normal” proteins influences the mutations of the virus given that the only mutations that proliferate are those which are able to escape these responses. The new study evidences that from now on, in order to foresee the evolution of a virus in an individual and in certain populations, proteins generated due to errors will also have to be taken into account.
Some articles have already been previously published, in which scientists described the main reasons leading to the immense diversity of the aids virus worldwide, a virus which presents so many mutations in one infected individual, much like the flu virus at a worlwide level in one year. Amongst the articles published, a paper published in the Nature journal in March 2009, in which Christian Brander participated, stands out. In this article it was demonstrated that the vast diversity of the HIV virus in the world depends on the predominant genetics in each area of the world, and concluded that the genetic profile of the different regions to which the vaccine was to be addressed should be taken into account. According to Brander, the new study “demonstrates that the existence of the immune response against proteins that are generated by error should be taken into account, and we even believe that some of these proteins should be included in the development of vaccines for HIV”.
The HIVACAT AIDS vaccine research and development project is developed by means of a public-private consortium without precedent in Spain, placing our country in the international forefront of the research conducted in this field. Composed of the two most currently consolidated and important research centres dedicated to the study of AIDS, the IrsiCaixa Aids Research Institute located at the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital (Can Ruti) and the Infectious Diseases and AIDS Serviceof the Clinical Hospital of Barcelona, HIVACAT performs research for the development of a new vaccine against HIV in coordination with ESTEVE and with the support of the La Caixa Foundation, the Department of Health and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Enterprise of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Clinic Foundation. The consortium represents the first significant experience in this field in terms of the collaboration between administration, researchers and business.
Both centres develop their research alongside 7,500 patients who benefit from the fast incorporation of new treatments developed in the centres themselves and from innovations acquired at an international level. HIVACAT has a team composed of over 60 scientists trained in internationally renowned research centres such as Harvard University in the United States, the Pasteur Institute of Paris or the Royal Free Hospital of London.
In Spain the project is co-directed by Dr. Bonaventura Clotet of the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital and by Dr. Josep Maria Gatell of the Clinical Hospital. The addition of researcher Christian Brander from Harvard University (Boston, United States), who left his position at the university in order to become a part of the Institute, should also be highlighted.