UNC researchers make big discovery in HIV/AIDS research

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Dr. Jenna Honeycutt

UNC Chapel Hill doctors have made a new discovery on the path to finding a cure for HIV and AIDs.

The researcher behind the new discovery is a North Carolina woman who found the virus has a way of hiding from treatment that no one thought of before.

For decades, doctors have treated HIV by looking at one particular type of cell, but Dr. Jenna Honeycutt questioned whether that is what researchers should be focused on.

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"I wanted to ask the next question: What are the other targets?" she said. "So that's why I've developed a converse animal model where I could look at everything but T cells."

Honeycutt and researchers at UNC's Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases are waging a war against the illness and found the virus was able to bunker down in other tissue cells called macrophages, something doctors didn't know before.

"So the battle to try to eradicate the virus from the body has just become clearer because now we know where all the enemies are," lab director and professor of medicine, Dr. J Victor Garcia said. "If you leave some of your enemies alone, they have the opportunity to come back and hunt you."

Honeycutt said discovery about HIV and macrophages is like playing a game of chess - if you don't know how some of the pieces move - or in this case, how the virus truly works - how can you win the game?

"She didn't take the shortcut. She actually went for the hardest possible target and found it," Garcia said.

Honeycutt started working on this worldwide discovery as a student, several years ago, and she's not done yet.

"Enjoying the research and trying to look forward to the next questions, and the next things will be able to do using this model," is what she said she plans to do next.

"Our ultimate hope is to find a cure for AIDS," Garcia said. "We want to rid not only the individuals but the world of this terrible disease."

You can read more about their research here.

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