One step closer to HIV cure

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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, a South African university said.

"New research has shown how the cancer drug vorinostat is able to 'wake up' the sleeping virus that silently persists in patients on standard HIV treatment, by altering how HIV genes are turned on and off," said Monash University.

The university's infectious diseases department head, Prof Sharon Lewin who is also a director of the infectious diseases unit at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, felt the trial results were promising and would inform further studies into curing HIV.

How the research was done

"We know the virus can hide in cells and remain out of reach from conventional HIV therapies and the immune system," said Lewin, who also co-heads the centre for virology at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne.

"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 we have successfully done that," she said.

Twenty HIV-positive patients in Victoria, Australia, were the first in the world to participate in the vorinostat trial.

"This is a very important step, but the results of the trial have raised further questions," said Lewin. "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."

Lewin said there was an enormous amount still to learn about how to eradicate a "very smart virus".

Last year, Lewin and her team discovered how the virus, which infects more than 30 million people worldwide, hides dormant in infected cells, placing it out of the reach of conventional treatments and the immune system.

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 20th Annual Conference on Retrovirus and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, in the United States.

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