NIU professor contributes to fight against AIDS virus

By Matt Gronlund

One professor at NIU is doing his part to contribute to the fight against the AIDS virus.

Arnold Hampel, a molecular biologist, biochemist and NIU professor, has been researching the AIDS virus at NIU since 1989.

“Our approach has been to cut RNA in half to prevent viral proteins from forming. Once it’s cut in two, it’s gone,” Hampel said.

Research assistant Paula Degrandis said the lab is trying “to find the optimal ribozyme for targeting the AIDS virus which will hopefully be used as a therapeutic.”

Hampel’s research is an ongoing process. “It goes from one step to another,” Hampel said.

He said it will be a minimum of four years before there are any real results, “providing all goes well.”

Two different HIV viruses are currently thought to exist, HIV-1 and HIV-2. “The two are not nearly as closely related as the name implies,” Hampel said.

ampel said there is a vaccine for HIV-2 and that people infected with HIV-2 can develop an immunity to the virus. Those with HIV-1 cannot.

“No vaccines have worked (for HIV 1), it may be impossible (to find one),” he said.

IV-1 is the virus which affects most Americans and Europeans. HIV-2 is found predominantly in Africa. Approximately half the cases in Africa are HIV-1, the other half being HIV-2.

“DDI and AZT are the two current treatments,” Hampel said. Of the two, AZT has been the most widely tested.

“It’s very clear it has about a two-year usefulness,” he said. After the two-year period the virus can develop a resistance to the drug.

Less is known about the drug DDI. “The story just isn’t in yet,” Hampel said. DDI also is thought to be able to add another two years onto the life of someone who has contracted AIDS.

On average, two out of every 1,000 college students have contracted the AIDS virus. Nationally, four out of every 1,000 people, excluding college students, have contracted the virus.