Promising breakthrough in eradicating HIV

by Terry Lee Derrick
Staff writer

A drug called valproic acid, an anti-convulsant, has been discovered to “wake up” dormant HIV infected cells in the body in order to help wipe them out.

The study on valproic acid has been led by Dr. David Margolis of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the study four patients on standard therapy were given valproic acid twice daily over three months. The dormant infected cells were reduced by 75 percent in three out of four patients. “This finding, though not definitive, does suggest that new approaches could cure HIV in the future and is significant conceptually,” says Dr. Margolis.

According to Dr. Margolis, current drugs work to wipe out active HIV cells, but there are places in the body, like lymph nodes and brain, where there are these dormant or “sleeping” cells and if the virus enters those cells it becomes inactive as well rendering it immune to treatment. This could be a major breakthrough in wiping HIV out of the body entirely and literally becoming HIV free. If this kind of treatment were possible a patient might take drugs for two or three years and then become virus free and taken off drugs permanently.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Routy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal Canada who also studies dormant HIV says, “This is a very impressive first try. It is enormous in just three months treatment to have such an effect.”

Dr. Robert Siliciano, a professor at John Hopkins University , first discovered the dormancy problem. He is more skeptical about these results leading to a cure anytime soon. “It is extremely unlikely this approach would work. One is assuming that one drug “understands” the mechanism(s) involved with a dormant cell of which there may be several. Also 99.999 percent of all virus must be killed in order to be HIV free, and if there is only one dormant cell hiding somewhere in the body and is not affected it can quickly multiply and bring the virus right back to its previous quantity.”

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