Scientists still searching for HIV's lethal ways

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Guido Silvestri, MD:
Scientists still searching for HIV’s lethal ways

Nearly 30 years after its discovery, researchers are still trying to understand why HIV causes AIDS; that is, how the virus slowly destroys the immune system. It’s a knotty question, one that requires finesse and precision.

Emory immunologist and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Guido Silvestri, MD, and his colleagues are using just that and a method called comparative AIDS research. In other words, the scientists compare humans infected with HIV who develop AIDS and nonhuman primates from Africa who are infected with SIV, or simian immunodeficiency virus. Silvestri is chief of the Division of Microbiology and Immunology at Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Although SIV is very similar to HIV in terms of genetic and molecular structure, once infected with this virus, the Old World Monkey, the sooty mangabey, does not get sick.

“It’s a major mystery in AIDS research because these animals have virus replication that remains active in their body as long as they’re alive,” says Silvestri. “So, it’s not just the infection and the virus replicating that kills people. There’s something more that happens.”

To hear Silvestri’s own words about what that something is,, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.