Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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The Enemy Within
14 December 2012

The Enemy Within

HIV is a deadly virus which hides to survive. Like a spy on the run it blends in – mixing its genome with that of its enemy: our immune defences. Lying undetected inside infected lymphocytes [white blood cells], the virus replicates, its threat slowly growing as it prepares to undermine our defences from within. With a foe as crafty as HIV, future vaccinations must be swift and uncompromising – the immune system must receive the right orders quickly, or perish. Pictured is a computer simulation of the latest weapon against viral espionage: a man-made virus-like particle that presents our immune system with detailed ‘intelligence’ about an enemy virus. Measuring 450,000 times smaller than a passport photo, this blue-coloured particle safely houses tiny pieces of HIV’s chemical structure (shown in yellow and red), allowing immune cells to plan their attack in advance before they face the enemy.

Written by John Ankers

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