Drug for alcoholism can unmask HIV hiding in cells

//Drug for alcoholism can unmask HIV hiding in cells

Drug for alcoholism can unmask HIV hiding in cells

By | 2015-11-17T03:53:52+00:00 November 17th, 2015|Health|0 Comments

Scientists seeking a cure for HIV/Aids have said a drug designed to combat alcoholism might be able to draw out the dormant virus from hiding in the body and allow it to be killed.

The drug, branded as Antabuse but also sold as a generic called disulfiram, was given to 30 HIV positive patients in the US and Australia who were already taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs.

At the highest given dose there was evidence that “dormant HIV was activated”, the researchers said in a study published in The Lancet HIV journal on Monday, adding they did not find any harmful side-effects.

Julian Elliott of the department of infectious diseases at the Alfred hospital in Melbourne, who worked with Lewin, said waking up the virus was only the first step to eliminating it.

“The next step is to get these cells to die,” he said.

HIV latency, where the virus remains dormant in the body in people taking ART, is one of the biggest hurdles to achieving a cure for the viral infection that causes AIDS. HIV/AIDS has killed an estimated 34m people since the 1980s, according to the United Nations HIV programme, UNAids.

HIV can be held in check by ART, and by the end of 2014 an estimated 36.9 million people around the world were living with the virus. About two million people a year are newly infected.

Scientists say finding ways of “waking up” the virus in dormant cells and then destroying it is a key cure strategy but researchers have so far been unable to find the exact effective combination of drugs.

Sharon Lewin, a University of Melbourne professor who led the work, said that while scientists had made headway into activating latent HIV, one of the main concerns was the toxicity of the drugs trialled. Disulfiram, however, did not appear to present a problem.

“This trial clearly demonstrates that disulfiram is not toxic and is safe to use, and could quite possibly be the game changer we need,” she said.

“The dosage of disulfiram we used provided more of a tickle than a kick to the virus, but this could be enough. Even though the drug was only given for three days, we saw a clear increase in [the] virus in [blood] plasma, which was very encouraging.”