UC Merced professor develops HIV inhibitor

Combining drugs helps prevent the infection.

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 29, 2011 

N29_HIV

MARCI STENBERG/mstenberg@mercedsunstar.com UC Merced Professor Patricia LiWang looks through a microscope at human cells that were grown so they can produce viruses for experiments, as UC Merced graduate student Jie Xue looks on, Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 in the lab at the UC Merced site at Castle.

MARCI STENBERG — Merced Sun-Star

A new potential drug that's being developed in Merced County could become another weapon in the global fight against HIV transmission.

UC Merced professor Patricia "Patti" LiWang has created an inhibitor using a combination of two drugs to help prevent the virus from being transmitted. Linking the two drugs, LiWang says, makes the "entry inhibitor" extremely potent.

There are several classes of HIV inhibitors, but most work after HIV has infected the cell.

"They stop it from reproducing itself effectively or stop it from integrating into the human DNA," LiWang said. "But our class of drug would be to stop it from infecting (the cell) in the first place. Our goal is to prevent HIV infection to begin with."

The best use for the inhibitor would be in the form of a gel or cream to prevent the virus from spreading through sexual contact, LiWang said. One of the most effective ways to prevent HIV is by using a condom, but in many parts of the world people don't have a say in whether their partner uses a condom, she said.

"If they have a gel or a cream, their partner doesn't need to be aware of it and it's their own business if they are protecting themselves," she said.

Each of the two base drugs she used to develop the entry inhibitor have been studied before, but the they were good only for certain strains of HIV. LiWang's drug combination covers a wider range of HIV strains, she said.

"I modified their protein to make it better," she said.

LiWang said there's still much work to to be done, in terms of developing and improving the inhibitor.

"If we can work on it enough to improve it to make it suitable for clinical trials, then we would love it if eventually it was actually used to prevent HIV," she said.

There are hundreds of scientists working on projects to find a way to stop the spread of HIV. Not all will be marketed, she said.

LiWang hopes her creation will one day become a tool to prevent HIV, but it has a long way to go. The drug has been tested on human cells and human blood.

"You just have to hope that you are learning something that other people can use to eventually be useful," she said.

In the meantime, LiWang will continue to work on the inhibitor to learn more about how it works, and how she can make it better.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health is critical for this kind of work, she said, and lately it has become more difficult to attain grants from the organization.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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