Australian researchers have moved a step closer to finding a cure for HIV by successfully luring the dormant virus out of hiding in infected cells, Monash University said yesterday.
"New research has shown how the cancer drug vorinostat is able to 'wake up' the virus that silently persists in patients on standard HIV treatment by altering how HIV genes are turned on and off," the Australian university, which has a South African campus, said.
The head of its infectious diseases department, Professor Sharon Lewin - who is also a director of the infectious diseases unit at Alfred Hospital, in Melbourne - said the trial results were promising and would inform further studies into curing HIV.
"We know the virus can hide in cells and remain out of reach of conventional HIV therapies and the immune system," said Lewin. "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 were effective in keeping people healthy but could not eliminate a dormant virus.
"We wanted to see if we could wake the virus up and, using vorinostat, have done that," she said.
Twenty HIV-positive patients in Victoria, Australia, took part in the first trial.
Lewin said the results of the trial raised further questions.
"We've shown we can wake up the virus. Now we need to work out how to get rid of the infected cell. A kick-start to the immune system might help."
There was an enormous amount still to be learned about how to eradicate a "very smart virus".
Last year Lewin and her team discovered how the virus, which infects more than 30million people worldwide, hides dormant in infected cells.
The research is a collaboration between Monash University, the Burnet Institute, The Alfred Hospital, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and the National Association of People Living With HIV/Aids.
The research was presented at the annual Conference on Retrovirus and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, US, last week.