HIV cure: Australian researchers claim breakthrough

HIV immune cells

Australian researchers today claimed to have moved a step closer in finding a cure for HIV by successfully luring the 'sleeping' virus out of infected cells.

According to a statement released by the Melbourne-based Alfred Hospital, researchers have shown that the cancer drug vorinostat alters how HIV genes are turned on and off and in effect wakes up 'sleeping' virus, which is otherwise not eliminated in patients undergoing standard HIV treatment.

Director of Infectious Diseases at the hospital, Sharon Lewin said the results from the study are very promising and nearly all patients who took vorinostat showed that the virus could be woken up.

"We know that the virus can 'hide' in cells and remain out of reach of conventional HIV therapies as well as the immune system," Lewin said.

"Anti-HIV drugs are unable to eradicate the virus because it burrows deeply into the DNA of immune cells, where it gets stuck and goes to sleep. Anti-HIV drugs are effective in keeping people healthy but they cannot eliminate a virus that is sleeping. The results will now inform the design of further studies to find a way to possibly cure HIV.

"We wanted to see if we could wake the virus up and using vorinostat we have successfully done that. This is a very important step but the results of the trial have raised further questions. After waking up the virus, we now need to work out how to get rid of the infected cell. A kick start to the immune system might help," Lewin added.

"We have an enormous amount still to learn about how to ultimately eradicate this very smart virus," she said.

Twenty HIV-positive patients in Victoria were the first in the world to participate in a trial of two weeks of vorinostat.

The research, in collaboration with The Alfred Hospital, Monash University, Burnet Institute, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS, is part of a global effort to find a cure for the virus, and was presented at the 20th Annual Conference on Retrovirus and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.

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