Tagging the HIV virus with a new viral vector; the subject of a new research has aroused much interest in the quest to find the ultimate cure for HIV induced AIDS.

Healing victims of HIV could perhaps find a new meaning from this new study conducted by Dr Pin Wang of the USC (University of South California) Viterbi School of Engineering.

The study, published in the journal, Virus Research, was funded by the National Institutes of Health(NIH). USC scientist, Dr Wang has created a virus that hunts down and isolates the HIV-infected cells. Dr. Pin Wang's lentiviral vector latches onto HIV-infected cells and flags them with what is called "suicide gene therapy", enabling drugs to target these cells later and finally destroying them.

Dr. Wang explained that the mode of action is similar to the military practice of "buddy lasing". "Like a precision bombing raid, the lentiviral vector approach to targeting HIV has the advantage of avoiding collateral damage, keeping cells that are not infected by HIV out of harm's way. Such accuracy has not been achieved by using drugs alone, Dr Wang said.

This buddy system could prove to be a breakthrough technique because the lentiviral vector virus is programmed to identify the HIV-infected cells and does not interfere with the healthy cells.

"If you deplete all of the HIV-infected cells, you can at least partially solve the problem," said Wang.

This research on the lentiviral vector has so far been confined to the laboratory which has resulted in the destruction of about 35 percent of existing HIV cells in culture dishes. Although a small percentage, it is anticipated that this treatment, if it were to be extended to humans, would likely be repeated several times to maximize effectiveness.

The next step to developing this virus could be to test the method in mice. Dr Wang noted, "While this is an important breakthrough, it is not yet a cure. This is an early stage of research, but certainly it is one of the options in that direction," he said.

Data released by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 2008 noted that almost 186,000 men and women aged 55 and up were living with HIV. The CDC 2008 data showed that an estimated 83,000 people were affected by the HIV virus.

According to the 2009 data collated by AVERT, the international HIV and AIDS charity, around 68 percent of all people living with HIV reside in sub-Saharan Africa and carry the greatest burden of the epidemic. Epidemics in Asia have remained relatively stable and are still largely concentrated among high-risk groups. Conversely, the number of people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has almost tripled since 2000.

Currently, there is no known cure for HIV and the new "buddy" lentiviral could just be the hope in that direction.