Fighting HIV, Naturally

Dr. Nicole Bernard
Dr. Nicole Bernard

Some people seem to have a natural resistance to HIV, and a new study by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal is getting closer to explaining why.

The researchers compared the genetic profiles of people in their first year of HIV infection to those of people who had been repeatedly exposed to the virus yet remain uninfected. The simultaneous expression of certain versions of two genes related to the immune system, KIR3DL1 and HLA-B*57, appears to cause people to resist HIV infection or develop AIDS at a slower rate. Analyses revealed that 12.2 per cent of the exposed but uninfected subjects carried the “good” versions of both genes; only 2.7 per cent of primary HIV patients carried the genes.

It is unclear exactly how this genetic combination fights HIV. “More research is needed to determine the exact mechanism behind the protection we have observed, but these findings have revealed a promising avenue,” says Dr. Nicole Bernard, a researcher in the Infection and Immunity Axis of the Research Institute of the MUHC, who published her findings in the journal AIDS. “In the future, our findings could be used to somehow ‘boost’ the innate immune system and thus fight the virus as soon as it enters the body.”

This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).