Sunday, May 1, 2011

BYU researchers hope twins unlock AIDS mysteries

SALT LAKE CITY – Researchers at Brigham Young University are trying to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the virus that causes AIDS with a trio of studies addressing unusual cases involving a set of twins, a failed vaccine and a protein "stop sign."

The twin identical baby boys received a tainted transfusion and both became HIV-positive a few years ago.

Now, one of the twins has a near-normal immune system and pretty good health, while the other boy is five years behind him on the growth chart and has experienced a number of complications.

That provocative difference became the foundation of one of the studies, as researchers led by BYU biology department chairman Keith Crandall try to figure out how the virus changed in each twin. They've been joined in the study by scientists at the National Cancer Institute.

Crandall said there are competing theories about the differences in their clinical outcomes. One theory is that natural selection drives it, so the results should be similar. The other holds that random genetics plays a role and it therefore cannot be predicted.

A second study focuses on an HIV vaccine scientists in Thailand were trying to develop that proved ineffective. Crandall said they hope samples from that case will help them learn more about how the virus evolved and whether vaccinations to guard against HIV show promise.


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