A team of researchers from the University of California San Francisco and University of Melbourne have discovered a drug that can be effectively used in the fight against HIV.
According to the researchers, the drug, which was originally designed to cure alcoholism, can activate dormant HIV, The Daily Beast reported.
This is a significant discovery because one of the challenges faced by scientists and doctors is bringing HIV out of hiding. During its inactive or latent state, HIV can integrate itself into a person's DNA through the cells.
Usually, medical experts turn to antiretroviral drugs to treat patients with HIV. However, these drugs can only eliminate HIV infections once the virus is active. However, even though these drugs have reduced the death rate caused by HIV, they cannot completely eliminate the virus from patients.
But in a recent study, researchers tested the alcoholism drug disulfiram on 30 patients currently undergoing antiretroviral therapy. For three days, the researchers administered different doses of the drug to the patients. During the last day of the experiment, the patients were given the highest dose at 2,000mg.
The researchers then discovered that after the course of the experiment, the dormant HIV in patients was starting to emerge. According to the study's lead author, Dr. Julian Elliott of Australia's Department of Infectious Disease at Monash University and Alfred Hospital, activating HIV is a key step in treating it.
Now that the researchers have activated the virus, the next step would be to finding another treatment method to eliminate it.
"This is a very important step as we have demonstrated we can wake up the sleeping virus with a safe medicine that is easily taken orally once a day," he said according to Medical News Today. "Now we need to work out how to get rid of the infected cell."
"A kick-start to the immune system might help," he added. "We have an enormous amount still to learn about how to ultimately eradicate this very smart virus."
The researchers also noted that unlike other drugs and methods that are commonly used to treat HIV, disulfiram does not have side effects. It also does not raise any toxicity concerns unlike other drugs that were tested on patients.
"This trial clearly demonstrates that disulfiram is not toxic and is safe to use, and could quite possible be the game changer we need," Sharon Lewin, one of the co-authors of the study and a professor at the University of Melbourne told The Guardian.
The study carried out by the researchers was published on November 16 in the medical journal The Lancet.