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New studies detail how HIV affects immune system, claim drug exists to block virus

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In a last-ditch effort to rid the body of HIV, droves of white bloods cells self-destruct in an explosive mass suicide that drives the progression toward AIDS, a pair of new studies has found.

These fiery deaths attract more unsuspecting cells to come over and help, initiating a domino effect of immune system destruction. The discovery of these mechanisms of cell death has solved a decades-long mystery that has plagued HIV researchers since the emergence of the disease. And researchers claim an existing drug may be able to halt this suicide cascade in its tracks.

The study in Nature identifies the chain reaction and corresponding enzymes involved. The other from Science pinpoints a protein within the white blood cell that sniffs out the viral DNA and tells the cell to pull the trigger on itself. Both were published online Thursday.

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