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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Fighting the virus

U researchers are looking for better treatments for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) by studying the virus’s ability to cause cell damage through the protein Vpr, which forces cells to die, said Jason DeHart, a graduate student in experimental pathology.

The HIV lab has been working with Vpr (viral protein, regulatory) for the last several years and has made significant advances in understanding the protein and the effects HIV has on the immune system, researchers said.

Vicente Planelles, principal investigator of the lab and associate professor of pathology, said there are two main effects Vpr has on the immune system. “It prevents further cell division and, after the cell stops dividing, the protein causes the cells to develop apoptosis,” Planelles said.

Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is the process by which a cell “commits suicide,” but the process doesn’t start right away, Planelles said.

“The cells don’t die immediately, which allows for time to produce progeny viruses,” he said. “We want to know how this happens and what the consequences are,” he said.

The U is one of only a few labs in the United States focusing specifically on Vpr and its effects because U researchers believe it causes one of the most significant amounts of damage to the immune system in patients with HIV.

Planelles and his team have published approximately 12 scientific papers to date and are currently in the process of publishing another report on Vpr and how it could relate to further knowledge of the HIV virus and treatments.

Planelles said working with Vpr is “an ongoing project” but that they have gained valuable knowledge about its effects and the potential it has for better understanding the HIV virus.

“The hope is that we can use what we find in our research for new therapies and better treatments for HIV,” DeHart said.

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