Diabetes treatment helps HIV positive patients with inflammation

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  • Researchers have found that a diabetes control pill can help people living with HIV deal with certain side effects 
  • The study found that the pill has benefits for immunity and the colon 
  • A larger study is being launched that will observe patients for a longer period


New research has revealed that treatment used for type 2 diabetes can help people living with HIV reduce chronic inflammation, a side effect of treatment with antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The pilot study published in The Lancet investigated metformin’s ability to improve immune function and reduce viral reservoir size.

How was the study conducted?

The research was carried out over a period of two years between October 2016 and August 2018. The study enrolled 22 people infected with HIV. They were virally suppressed and had been taking ART for a minimum of two years.

Participants did not have diabetes. They received 500 mg metformin orally twice daily during the first week and an increased dosage of 850 mg from weeks two to 12, a dose similar to the one taken by many diabetics.

“The treatment duration was chosen based on a previous clinical study in non-diabetic patients treated for polycystic ovary syndrome,” the paper reads.

Blood samples were collected at the start of the study, at 12 weeks, and 12 weeks after the participants stopped taking metformin.

Positive effects

The findings of the study show that metformin helped more than half of the participants diminish residual HIV disease in the CD4+ T-cells in the colon.

“The drug was extremely well tolerated by the patients and we observed the beneficial biological effects of metformin in colon biopsies. HIV hides in CD4 T cells, immune system cells that shelter the virus and form viral reservoirs in various peripheral tissues such as the intestine. The virus continues to multiply in these reservoirs and leads to inflammation,” says Prof Petronela Ancuta, one of the study authors.

The research shows that metformin also has the benefit of reducing inflammation and intestinal damage. 

“The viral DNA reservoir size in peripheral blood T cells and in the colon was pretty stable, which is consistent with the known stability of HIV reservoirs. However, we expect that longer treatment may lead to a reduction of these reservoirs,” Ancuta explains.

Ancuta added that a new randomised study is about to be launched on more than 58 participants in which metformin will be administered over a longer period. 

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