Scientists at Johns Hopkins University said recently that they have learned how to "disarm" the AIDS virus by eliminating the cells' membranes, effectively stopping it from hijacking its victim's immune system.

Research results published last week in the medical journal Blood indicated the treatment method could lead to a vaccine against the virus, which affected about 33.3 million people worldwide at the end of 2009.

Scientists said their new method works by eliminating a membrane of cholesterol used by HIV to disguise itself and disarm the immune system. It steals the cholesterol from the first immune response to its intrusion, then uses it to communicate with the rest of the immune system.

By stripping it of that essential cholesterol membrane, the AIDS virus is attacked by the immune system and shut down.

It's not clear if the technique would work inside a human test subject, but David Graham, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Voice of America news that he believes science has finally "broken the code."

"By stealing cholesterol from the envelope of the virus, we can neutralize the subversion," he reportedly said. "We’ve broken the code; we can shut down the type of interference that HIV is having on the immune system."

AIDS accounts for about 1.8 million deaths worldwide each year.

(H/T: Geekosystem)