A sugar molecule called the Pk blood group antigen might provide a defense against HIV, according to a study published last week in the journal Blood, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. Researchers from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and Lund University in Sweden studied the sugar molecule, which is found on the surfaces of some red and white blood cells. They found that Pk antigens act as magnets for HIV, neutralizing the virus once it attaches to the antigen and stopping its spread to other immune cells, the Globe and Mail reports.
The study's findings indicate that "the higher the level of [Pk] blood type you have, the less susceptible you are to HIV," according to Donald Branch of Canadian Blood Services, who led the study. Although most people have a certain amount of Pk in their blood supply, only about one in one million people have very high levels, making them "very resistant" to HIV, Branch said. The study "represents a breakthrough," he said, adding that he hopes other people could acquire the same protection against HIV by artificially boosting the Pk level in their blood. Researchers already have developed an artificial version of the antigen for possible use "to sop up the HIV," Branch said. Once the approach is tested in animals, Branch said researchers could move to clinical trials in humans (Taylor, Globe and Mail, 1/16).
An abstract of the study is available online.
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