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Ravi Kane, assistant professor of chemical engineering, is designing new molecules that may one day fend off an HIV infection. Bolstering the bodys molecular defenses is a novel method that may lead to highly effective treatments for HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.
Kane has received a two-year, $150,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health, to pursue research into this promising HIV treatment.
Todays FDA-approved HIV treatments take aim at the virus itself. Drugs used in the standard cocktail regimens, including reverse transcriptase and protease inhibitors, are intended to disable HIV at two stages in its replication process. Such treatments are undoubtedly lifesaving for many people; however, they deliver varying success due to the ongoing emergence of resistant HIV strains. These drugs are also expensive and lead to side effects, including lipodystrophy (fat accumulation or loss in certain parts of the body) and dangerously high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Kanes research team at Rensselaer and collaborators at Albany Medical Center are trying a different approach. The Rensselaer team is designing molecules that block the particular receptors (located on human cells) that act as the docking sites where the majority of HIV strains make their first attempt at infiltration. These receptors are present all over the cell surface, requiring a molecule with a multi-armed (or multivalent) structure to best prevent a virus from docking.
Multivalency allows us to block more than one receptor with each molecule, says Kane. This approach has the potential to be very effective in fact, orders of magnitude more effective than any existing treatment.
There are multiple benefits to treating HIV by blocking its entrance to human cells. In contrast to the constantly mutating virus cells, the human receptors are stable and do not change over time, making development of resistance to a blocking drug unlikely. In addition, the new entry inhibitors may be extremely effective without any side effects. People with a genetic defect (a natural blockage) in this receptor show immunity to HIV infection, but are otherwise normal. This preliminary research is very exciting; however, further study and testing will be needed to develop a viable treatment.
|Rensselaer Magazine: Fall 2003|
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