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Aussie treatment breakthrough

In what is described as a “major breakthrough”, scientists in Geelong have discovered a protein that could be crucial in preventing HIV. Found in a woman’s reproductive tract, the protein — called interferon epsilon — has the potential to obstruct the virus duplicating in the body’s immune cells.

Discovered three years ago, the protein protects women from getting infections. “It acts as a moderator, a regulator for the immune system,” said Professor Johnson Mak from Deakin University. “This protein can actually facilitate or induce our bodies’ immune system to block off HIV at multiple different steps.”

It is hoped that the discovery will lead to alternative HIV prevention strategies for women, such as a gel or microbicide that would increase the levels of the naturally occurring protein. It is, however, early days. “We still have a lot more work to do,” said Professor Mak (pictured). “In many ways we want to better appreciate how the protein works, how to handle it, how to reproduce it and how to make it more potent.”  

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