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Scripps Scientists Offer Unprecedented Look At Key AIDS Protein

Evening Edition

Aired 11/1/13 on KPBS News.

A new finding from the Scripps Research Institute may get researchers one step closer towards the development of an AIDS vaccine.

— A target that’s eluded AIDS researchers for more than 20 years has finally been hit.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute and Cornell University have come up with an in-depth look at a key protein of the AIDS virus.

Scientists have been trying to get a glimpse of the so-called HIV trimer for decades. The protein complex makes up part of the infectious machinery of the AIDS virus.

Scripps structural biologist Bridget Carragher said dozens of researchers in three different labs developed the model.

“We did the electron microscopy on it and we benefitted from some new developments in specimen preparation, some beautiful new instrumentation that we have, that’s very novel and new, and there’s some great computer processing," she said.

Carragher said the model offers unprecedented, atomic-level detail of this key protein. She believes it will give scientists more insight.

“So we now have a chance to understand how it works, how it hides away from the immune system, and that’s what makes HIV such a difficult virus, and also how we might attack it in the future, using the immune system, and thus develop a vaccine against AIDS," she said.

In a different lab on the Scripps campus, biologist Jean-Philippe Julien has put in three years of work on this project.

The search for an AIDS vaccine has dragged on for years. It’s been challenging, because the virus is so complex and so variable.

Julien said this development moves researchers towards the goal.

“We’re not there yet, no," he said. "But we’re definitely closer. It’s a huge leap forward.”

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, infects 34 million people worldwide.

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