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Can Devastating Bat Disease Provide Clues on AIDS?

Can research on a bat-killing disease help in the fight against AIDS?

White-nose fungus has killed between 5 million and 7 million bats of various species since it was first discovered in 2008, and even many survivors of the disease still died later with their bodies in tatters. That led a scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey to conclude that the bats’ immune systems, nearly shut down during hibernation, became hyperaggressive when the bats awoke, destroying not only the white-nose disease but also healthy cells and tissue.

A similar immune-system attack occurs in patients with AIDS. Though the reaction happens differently in humans, researchers believe that studying the bats’ reaction to white-nose fungus may help develop a treatment for AIDS.

Unfortunately, the new research didn’t find much hope for the bats. In Pennsylvania, 95 percent of the little brown-bat population has died out, leading to ecological threats from insect overpopulation.