From Texas Public Radio:
A San Antonio researcher who “declared war” on HIV decades ago finds a potential new defense against the virus.
Dr. Ruth Ruprecht discovered her mission in medicine more than 30 years ago.
“When I was a young physician in training I took care of young people my age. They had unrecognizable conditions, no name was in the textbook for their condition. They all died. I was basically taking care of the very first AIDS patients,” Ruprecht says.
But AIDS didn’t have a name then, and it would be years before researchers discovered the syndrome was caused by a retrovirus – HIV.
“And once I discovered a retrovirus was the cause of it, I declared war on it,” she says.
Ruprecht and her warriors may have discovered a new and potent defense against the virus in our own immune systems: Immunoglobulin M.
“IgM is kind of the forgotten immunoglobulin. It’s the most ancient immunoglobulin. All vertebrate species have it. Even sharks make it. Birds have it. All fish have it,” Ruprecht says.
It was IgM’s longevity the ultimately piqued Ruprecht’s interest.
“I kind of said to myself if mother nature has bothered to keep this big molecule and using it it must have an important function, and maybe it also can be recruited to defend against HIV transmission, and yes. It can,” she says.
Until now, scientists had thought IgM was too short lived to have any real impact on HIV. Turns out they underestimated this antibody.
When enlisted into the HIV fight, IgM can grab onto a lot of HIV particles quickly, and it holds on tight. And because IgM is large, when it is bound to HIV the virus clumped up, making the whole thing even larger…too large to pass though human mucous membranes and preventing infection.
This is big, as an estimated 90 percent of new HIV-1 infections worldwide are caused by exposure to the virus through mucous membranes.
And this is big for the scientist who declared war on HIV all those years ago.
“Yes, and we are not done yet,” Ruprecht says.