Patterns of sugars at the surface of immune cells can affect a person’s vulnerability to HIV infection, according to results from a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The findings suggested it may be possible to locate infected immune cells with the last vestiges of HIV by reading sugar profiles on the surface, Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, NIH acting director, said in a July 2022 blog post.

The study findings, Tabak explained, could lead to elimination of latent HIV infection and discovering a cure for the virus.

“Scientists already knew that HIV changes the proteins that the infected memory CD4 T cell puts on its surface, a process known as viral remodeling,” Tabak said. “Now it appears that something similar happens with sugars, too. The new findings suggest the virus increases levels of sialic acid at the cell surface in ways that may help the virus to survive. That’s especially intriguing because sialic acid also is associated with a cell’s ability to avoid detection by the immune system.”

Tabak continued, “What’s also cool is the study indicates that by performing single-cell analyses and sorting cells based on sugar and protein profiles, it may be possible to discover distinct new classes of immune and other cells that have eluded earlier studies. As was the case with HIV, this broader protein-sugar profile could hold the key to gaining deeper insights into disease processes throughout the body.”

Biomarker studies and findings like these and others that are funded through healthcare agencies like NIH are made possible when nurses advocate for increased congressional support. HIV/AIDS prevention is cancer prevention.