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New discovery could help treat HIV

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More than a dozen scientists, researchers and professors banded together to investigate a possibly beneficial mutation found in the genetic code of some versions of HIV. What’s resulted is a study outlining how the mutation – called 172K – makes treatment of HIV more efficient for two common drugs. The University of Missouri’s Stefan Sarafianos was an author on the study. He says that the 172K mutation disrupts HIV’s resistance to two families of drugs. 

“This now will allow us to design better regimens because this mutation confers more susceptibility — so the patients will respond better to certain drugs,” says Sarafianos.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry published the study. F. Peter Guengerich is the Journal’s associate editor, and says that the discovery could help treat those who carry the mutated version of HIV, as well as aid future research.

“We have high standards, and in this work, Sarafianos’ group used some sophisticated techniques to actually define what these mutations were doing,” Guengerich says.

Sarafianos has worked with HIV since the mid-1980’s, and says research on the virus often stalls due to the virus’ ability to rapidly develop resistance to treatments. Finding a mutation like 172K that breaks down the virus and makes specific versions easier to treat is especially challenging. 

“It’s not a very common event, so you need some observant scientists and somebody who’s on top of things," Sarafianos says. "Then, you really need to very frequently sequence the viruses from a patient, and that’s what our collaborators did in Japan and they were able to identify these limitations.” 

Sarafianos used Skype to work with fellow scientists half way around the world. Lead author Atsuko Hachiya  also made a visit to Sarafianos’ lab on the MU campus.

“We were blessed to be in a position to collaborate with scientists all over the world: including Japan and in Pittsburgh, with Dr. Parniak. This is today’s science – it’s very collaborative, really,” Sarafianos says. 

Sarafianos, who has been employed by the University of Missouri since 2006, continues to work with the long-distance team in HIV research.