In people undergoing treatment for AIDS, the HIV virus can take cover in certain cells and hide away, only to reemerge once therapy is stopped. This latency has been one of the biggest hurdles in developing a cure for AIDS. 'Waking up' the virus, and then destroying it, is a promising strategy for treating patients of HIV. But drugs which are able to rouse HIV from its dormant state are toxic to human beings.
Researchers have now revealed that a treatment for alcoholism can reactivate dormant HIV, potentially allowing other drugs to spot and kill the virus hiding out in human immune cells. The medication, called Disulfiram, draws out the AIDS-causing virus without any side effects for patients.
In clinical trials led by Sharon Lewin, a professor at the University of Melbourne, 30 people on antiretroviral treatment (ART) were given increasing doses of Disulfiram over a period of three days. At the highest dose, there was evidence of slumbering HIV being stimulated, with no side effects reported by the subjects.
The study's lead author Julian Elliott, head of clinical research in the department of infectious diseases at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, said, "Waking up the virus is only the first step to eliminating it. Now we need to work out how to get rid of the infected cell."
The study is published in The Lancet.