Scientists Find HIV's Weak Spot

Jun 24, 2011 | Updated Aug 24, 2011

Scientists have honed in on certain parts of the HIV virus that could be the perfect targets for future drugs.

Scientists from the Ragon Institute -- a joint venture of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University -- applied a mathematical method that was previously used in the stock market to identify the vulnerable sites, the Wall Street Journal reported.

One of the sites is where HIV is attacked by the immune systems of "elite controllers" -- people with HIV who are able to control their disease without any medication, according to the study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

"This is a wonderful piece of science, and it helps us understand why the elite controllers keep HIV under control," Nobel laureate David Baltimore, who was not involved with the study, told the Journal.

HIV is constantly evolving, producing 100 billion new particles of the virus every day, Discover magazine reported. This constant mutability is what makes the virus hard to vanquish. But scientists have located some sectors of HIV that don't mutate as often that are likely vital to the virus's ability to survive, the study said.

By targeting these conserved sites with drugs and mutating them, HIV would be forced to mutate and therefore become weak, or would do nothing and eventually die, Discover reported. Either way, it would be a lose-lose situation for the virus -- if the hypothesis can be proven.

Instead of employing HIV strategies that attack all parts of the virus -- which would evolve and mutate, and therefore evade the drug and be fruitless -- it may be better to target this single sector of HIV since it doesn't mutate as frequently, the Journal reported. Scientists are now working on testing the hypothesis in monkeys.