Replacing drugs that accelerate ageing

Patients with HIV now live almost as long as other non-carriers, but current treatments also make them age faster. A recent discovery could protect their immune systems and slow down the side effects.

In 10 seconds? A potential new drug may save HIV-infected patients from toxic side effects and complications due to accelerated ageing. Compared with the current option of daily pills, one dose of the new compound could stay effective for weeks. (Read the science)

HIV virus

Why is aging an issue with HIV? Antiretroviral drugs have saved a generation from dying from AIDS, but surviving with HIV created new problems. Among these are the premature aging of the immune system, as well as earlier development of cardiovascular diseases, kidney problems and dementia. (Find out more)

What’s the way forward? The ultimate goal is to eradicate HIV, but until then we’re still looking for better therapies. Managing life with HIV has already dramatically improved since the 1990s, but scientists are now placing their hopes in a new compound with fewer side effects and a longer lasting dose. (Read more)

What does this potential new drug do? Everything it should, but better than current drugs: it stops the virus from replicating, protects the immune cells infected by HIV, and, when combined with these immune cells, enhances the performance of existing drugs. (More here)

How did they manage to do that? Compound I, as it’s referred to, was first created in a computer model, and then transformed to target a vital protein that helps HIV replicate. With further tweaks, researchers boosted its potency and reduced its toxicity. The final compound — called cathecol diether — performed well in HIV-infected lab mice injected with human blood and appeared effective against drug-resistant HIV strains.

And how does it help ageing patients? The reduced doses lead to less frequent toxicity, and it has better compatibility with other drugs taken by older patients. Scientists think HIV-related ageing happens as a combination of the virus, the treatment and possibly riskier past lifestyles. The daily dose of antiretroviral drugs needed to keep AIDS at bay can damage the patient’s liver and fat tissue, leading to metabolic problems and heart disease. So the hope is that the new, gentler drug candidate will pass human clinical trials.

Antiretroviral drugs: a geographical imbalance
Since the mid 1990s, antiretroviral therapies have extended HIV patients’ lives to nearly match that of HIV-free individuals.
However, the USD 20,000-per-head yearly cost initially made it impossible for developing countries to save patients. Only in the late 1990s were they able to obtain drugs at affordable prices.
Developing countries - most recently, Nepal - still complain about only being able to afford ‘substandard’ medications that cause extra side effects.

This research was curated by Marissa Fahlberg, PhD Student at Tulane University, US, researching HIV/AIDS, aging, inflammation and adipose tissue


(Psst, Marissa distilled 20 research papers to save you 791.3 min)

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