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Experimental drug holds promise for HIV treatment

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It is known that an HIV infection causes a mass suicide of immune cells. A new study has found that this process can be halted by an experimental drug that prevents immune cells from self-destructing. Researcher affiliated with the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco reported their findings on December 18 in the journal Nature. Now that the drug’s effectiveness has been proven in laboratory, human trials will be conducted.

A key protein involved in cell suicide is caspase 1, which is an experimental caspase-1 inhibitor manufactured by Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Cambridge, Massachusetts). The drug, known as VX-765, has already been tested in humans as a possible treatment for epilepsy. The drug failed to control seizures in epileptics; however, the clinical trials reported that the drug appeared to be safe for humans. A 2010 study, co-authored by Warner Greene, PhD, a molecular virologist at the Gladstones Institute of Virology and Immunology, who also co-authored the current study, found that HIV does not directly destroy these immune cells, known as CD4 cells. Instead, the cells often self-destruct when exposed to caspase 1. Both the current and previous study also address a decades-old question: why do infection-fighting immune cells die off in individuals with HIV?

When tested in human tissues in the laboratory, the drug proved to be extremely effective in preventing HIV from destroying key cells of the immune system. Understanding why HIV infection kills CD4 cells is an important step for HIV research. Preventing cellular suicide could be extremely effective in treating individuals infected with the HIV virus. Hopefully, the planned clinical trials will confirm the effectiveness of VX-765.

The Gladstone Institutes is an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization, which focuses on prevention, treatment, and cure of cardiovascular, viral, and neurological conditions such as heart failure, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer's disease. The facility is affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

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