A FORM of gene therapy developed by researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research may provide hope to sufferers of HIV, preventing the virus from crippling the immune system by manipulating its genetic structure and turning HIV into a weapon against itself.

Dr David Harrich, a naturalised Australian citizen, has utilised a technique that alters the proteins that enable the HIV virus to replicate throughout the body. By modifying the proteins that make up HIV into a mutated form, referred to as Nullbasic, Harrich’s research team have determined that it is possible to block the process of reverse transcription that allows HIV to damage the immune system. This would ultimately render the virus inert, preventing the condition of those infected with HIV from deteriorating further.

Harrich began studying the HIV virus in 1989 while completing his doctorate in experimental pathology at the University of California – Los Angeles. This project explored the issue of genetic expression and the replication of the HIV virus, a research concept he would continue to pursue after moving to Australia in 1997. The initial breakthrough in Harrich’s research occurred in 2007, with the discovery that Nullbasic had the ability to inhibit the spread of HIV.

Harrich told Australian Times: “With money running out, I had my PhD student try one more experiment in late 2007. The experiment was to test ifNullbasic could render HIV non-infectious. The student came back and said it worked, so I told him to do it again and again and again. It works every time.”