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Lymphoma Drug Found to Uncover Dormant HIV

David Margolis (Univ of North Carolina in Chapel Hill)

David Margolis (Univ of North Carolina in Chapel Hill)

A team led by researchers at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill have found a drug given to fight lymphoma was able to dislodge heretofore hidden virus in patients with HIV. The findings appear online in this week’s issue of the journal Nature (paid subscription required).

The researchers, led by UNC medical professor David Margolis (pictured left), conducted a clinical study to test vorinostat, one of a class of drugs known as histone deacetylase inhibitors, usually prescribed to treat T-cell lymphoma. Vorinostat is marketed as Zolinza by Merck and Co.

The existence of persistent dormant HIV in the immune system not attacked by anti-AIDS drugs is believed to be a reason for the reemergence of infection among patients that stop taking their medication. Disrupting and removing these reservoirs is considered a key step in finding a cure for AIDS.

The study team that included colleagues from Harvard School of Public Health, National Cancer Institute, Merck, and University of California in San Diego gave vorinostat to eight men infected with HIV who were medically stable on antiretroviral therapy. The researchers measured the levels of active HIV virus before and after administration of the drug.

The patients receiving vorinostat showed an average 4.5-fold increase in the levels of HIV RNA in CD4 T cells, evidence that the virus was being unmasked. In HIV infections, the virus attacks T cells with the CD4 protein and uses them to make more copies of HIV.

“This work provides compelling evidence for a new strategy to directly attack and eradicate latent HIV infection,”says Margolis. “We must seek other ways to end the epidemic, and this research provides new hope for a strategy to eradicate HIV completely from the body.”

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