In the search for new active substances, Ulm’s researchers are also looking for agents in body fluids that inhibit the HI virus. In this way, they came across a peptide in human blood called “VIRIP” that inhibits the anchorage of the causative agent to the host cell, preventing infection. Targeted modifications to the peptide can increase its effectiveness even further.
Research into such substances produced by the body is carried out at the “Ulm Centre for Peptide Pharmaceuticals” (UPEP), established in 2013. This interdisciplinary establishment, which acts as a link between science and the pharmaceutical industry, seeks to develop drugs based on antimicrobial or anticancer peptides produced by the body to fight a number of diseases.
During their investigations, Ulm’s AIDS researchers also discovered fibrils in human semen that promote infection with HIV. These “sticky rods” bind pathogen particles, making it easier for them to adhere to the target cell. Without these fibrils, called SEVI (semen-derived enhancers of infection), a lot more viral particles are required to infect a cell. Inhibiting the interaction of fibrils with viral particles provides a new starting point for preventing the sexual transmission of HIV. In addition, analogous fibrils may allow scientists to enhance retroviral gene transfer in basic research and therapeutic applications.
The outstanding scientific achievements of the Institute of Molecular Virology is demonstrated, amongst others, by the awarding of an Advanced Grant (Link) worth € 2 million by the European Research Council. Backed by this funding instrument, acquired by Prof Kirchhoff in 2012, the scientists wish to explore how the HI virus bypasses the human immune system, and how to strengthen natural defence mechanisms. They are also involved in additional projects, in which they collaborate closely with other scientific institutions, in particular the Institute of Organic Chemistry III, and the Institute of Virology at Ulm University Medical Centre. Measures have also been taken to ensure young researchers are recruited: host-pathogen interaction is a key area addressed at the “excellent” International Graduate School in Molecular Medicine at Ulm University.