After 16 years of laboratory study at Georgetown University edical Center, researchers have discovered a compound of amino acids that may prevent the HIV virus from spreading to healthy human cells.

Research Professor Candace Pert first developed the idea of using Peptide-T to treat HIV while at a 1985 AIDS conference in aui, Hawaii. Convinced of the importance of her idea, she quit her tenured job at the National Institute of Health and dedicated the next 16 years to this project.

“I feel like I was divinely inspired,” Pert said.

Peptide-T must now pass clinical trials in humans to be put on the market, Pert said.

According to Pert, it could take months to two years for Peptide-T to be made available to the majority of people living with HIV. First, samples from the ongoing trials must be analyzed to measure the level of virus in the blood. If the virus levels decrease in these tests, then Peptide-T could be available to the public in a matter of months, Pert said.

“When Peptide-T becomes available, if the same results occur in humans that occurred in the lab, then we expect [Peptide-T] to prolong life, alleviate symptoms of HIV and reverse the weight loss that occurs,” Pert said.

The laboratory research was conducted by Pert and Michael Ruff from the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown University School of Medicine after being brought to Georgetown by ichael Lumpkin the chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the School of Medicine.

Pert and Ruff’s experiments were repeated with similar promising results by three independent research groups from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Puerto Rico.

Peptide-T is a member of the newest class of experimental AIDS theraputics known as “viral entry inhibitors” and has a different mode of action than the most commonly used HIV therapy, protese inhibitors.

Protese inhibitors work by disrupting a key enzyme required for the viral assembly of HIV, thereby preventing it from fitting into cellular receptors. However, Peptide-T physically blocks the HIV to keep healthy cells from being infected.

Pert said an advantage of Peptide-T over protese inhibitors is that no resistance has been seen in cells treated with Peptide-T, while eventual resistance is seen in infected cells treated with protese inhibitors.

Pert said other advantages of Peptide-T include the potential that it could be given to patients at a much earlier stage than can protese inhibitors.

Peptide-T also has shown less serious side effects in lab tests thus far.

It has been proved by the research of Pert and Ruff that Peptide-T reverses “wasting” or weight loss in rats infected with HIV, which is a significant problem for people living with HIV, especially in Africa, where AIDS is known as a “slimming disease.” Tests on HIV-positive human children are currently being conducted and thus far the results have shown Peptide-T to restore the normal growth hormone in children to reverse wasting.

Their research was funded by Advanced Immunity Inc., a small, privately held New York-based company that licenses the worldwide rights to Peptide-T.

The research was conducted at Pert and Ruff’s laboratory at the Georgetown University Medical Center with the help of Lumpkin and Charlotte Barbey-Morel, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and in the laboratory of Frank Ruscetti, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, where the HIV strains are housed.

The second phase of the clinical trial is currently under way in San Francisco and involves 24 HIV-positive participants who will receive Peptide-T twice a day for six months. The trial is now recruiting participants. Patients who would like to learn more about the study may contact Diane Cenko at (415) 353-6215.

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