A team of scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia has discovered a gene that could hold the key to treating and potentially controlling chronic infections such as HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis.
They found that the gene, called Arih2, which is essential for embryo survival, also controls the function of the immune system - making critical decisions about whether to switch on the immune response to an infection, the Daily Mail reported.
The finding could help in the development of treatments for infections that 'overwhelm' the immune system like HIV as well as conditions that cause chronic inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis, they said.
The team discovered the gene in dendritic cells, which act as an early warning system raising the alarm if they detect foreign invaders.
"Arih2 is responsible for the most fundamental and important decision that the immune system has to make - whether the immune response should be initiated and progressed or whether it should be switched off to avoid the development of chronic inflammation or autoimmunity," the paper quoted research leader Dr Marc Pellegrini as saying.
"If the wrong decision is made, the organism will either succumb to the infection, or succumb to autoimmunity," he added.
Dr Greg Ebert said Arih2 had significant promise as a drug target.
"Arih2 has a unique structure, which we believe make it an excellent target for a therapeutic drug, one that is unlikely to affect other proteins and cause unwanted side-effects," Dr Ebert said.
"Because Arih2 is critical for survival, we now need to look at the effect of switching off the gene for short periods of time, to see if there is a window of opportunity for promoting the immune response to clear the infection without unwanted or collateral damage or autoimmunity," he noted.
Though the researchers are very excited about their discovery, they noted that it would take many years to translate the discovery to a drug that could be used in humans. (ANI)