Researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia have found that this medication used to treat alcoholics might cure HIV.
Researchers have been looking for ways to treat HIV for decades, and a new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia has found a promising lead in an unsuspecting place. According to a report from Medical News Today, the recent study has shown that a drug used to treat alcoholism, known as disulfiram, may be much more beneficial for treating HIV than previously thought.
The study was led by professor Sharon Lewin from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne. The findings were published in the journal The Lancet HIV.
Disulfiram, which is sold as Antabuse, is used to discourage alcoholic patients from drinking by blocking an enzyme called dehydrogenase. This enzyme is key in metabolizing alcohol, making its effects more pronounced when the enzyme is blocked.
By taking disulfiram, alcoholics become extremely sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Side effects of drinking while on the drug include headache, nausea, chest pain, vomiting, weakness, blurred vision, sweating, and a sense of confusion. While the drug is certainly effective at making people not want to drink, it has been found to serve other purposes as well.
Professor Lewin’s team found that the drug might be useful in the fight against HIV. Currently, the most common treatment for the immune virus is called antiretroviral therapy, or ART. It works using a combination of three of more antiretroviral medications that can bog down the progression of HIV.
ART has led to a significant decline in HIV mortality in recent decades, but it is a far cry from a cure. The treatment has not been successful in eliminating HIV from patients entirely, as the virus has the ability to lie dormant in cells and hide out during immune system attacks.
The researchers found that disulfiram was successful in “waking up” dormant HIV cells, which made them more susceptible to the body’s immune responses. They believe that this could be the key to eliminating the disease.
The drug is the latest used in a line of research on the “shock and kill” method of treating HIV. Other drugs have been successful at waking up dormant HIV cells, but they have been shown to produce toxic and harmful side effects in many cases.
Disulfiram was just strong enough to “tickle” the HIV virus out of its dormant state, but was not strong enough to damage other cells in the body. According to Professor Lewin, “This trial clearly demonstrates that disulfiram is not toxic and is safe to use, and could quite possibly be the game changer we need.”
A summary of the study’s results can be found here.