Hundreds of new proteins critical in the spread of HIV through the body have been identified by Harvard researchers. The discovery could lead to new treatment options for people with the virus.

The study was published in the journal Science Express on Jan. 10.

HIV infects human proteins to spread through the body, even though its own arsenal of nine genes and 15 proteins is considered minimal by scientists.

In discovering 273 new human proteins that had not formerly been connected to the virus's spread, Harvard researchers feel they can perhaps target these proteins and prevent them from being infected.

Prior to this finding, only 36 proteins had been identified in the spread of HIV.

Currently HIV patients are given drugs, known as HIV inhibitors, that interact with the virus itself. However, the virus can mutate and become immune to these drug therapies, particularly in patients who fail to take their medications regularly.

"We decided to take a different approach centred on the human proteins exploited by the virus," said Harvard Medical School professor and senior author Stephen Elledge, in a release. "The virus would not be able to mutate to overcome drugs that interact with these proteins."

"Scientists can look at the list, predict why HIV needs a particular protein, and then test their hypothesis," he said.

Elledge believes that with further study, researchers may eventually be able to "tweak various parts of the system to disrupt viral propagation without making our own cells sick."