Drugs that are currently given to prevent organ rejection in patients who have received a transplant may offer a new approach to curing HIV, say researchers.
In a study of HIV patients who underwent kidney transplant, drugs that were given to stop rejection of the new organs were also found to keep HIV under control, report Steven Deeks (University of California, San Francisco) and colleagues.
The findings suggest that these drugs modify the immune system in such a way that reduces the persistence of the virus, says the team.
“Current therapies fail to cure the disease as they do not attack those viruses that remain hidden within the immune system,” explains Deeks. Although these medications are effective at suppressing HIV, the virus still persists in the body at a low level, meaning patients need to carry on taking these expensive drugs for the rest of their lives.
Researchers suspect that this persistence of HIV is linked to the inflammation that occurs in response to the infection. The inflammation is thought to provide an environment that the virus can “hide” in, thereby sustaining the infection. Deeks and team decided to investigate whether immunosupressants could reduce this inflammation and therefore disrupt the HIV-friendly environment.
The researchers conducted a three year follow-up study of 91 kidney transplant patients with HIV who took immunosuppressants to reduce their risk of transplant rejection.
As reported in the American Journal of Transplantation, analysis showed that long-term exposure to the drugs kept the patients’ HIV well under control. Of particular interest was an agent called sirolimus, as patients who took this drug had a decrease in the number of HIV-infected cells over time.
Deeks says that based on the study’s findings, “the NIH is now sponsoring a targeted study to see if sirolimus might indeed contribute to a cure of HIV infection.”