Sold as Antabuse and Antabus, disulfiram is a common anti-alcoholic oral drug that induces people to vomit if they consume alcohol. This obviously discourages further consumption of alcohol. However, it appears it may have other uses.

In a study by researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia, disulfiram has been demonstrated to ‘wake up’ HIV cells without causing any harmful side-effects.  It may sound odd that scientists want to 'activate' HIV cells that are currently in a kind of dormant stage; however, an unfortunately common trait of HIV is that it has a latent phase, allowing it to remain dormant (i.e. undetected) in various hiding places around the body

This ultimately makes the HIV safe - keeps it protected - from the effects of current antiretroviral drugs that can only treat HIV in the bloodstream.

This has been the greatest obstacle in treating HIV/AIDS. Previously, histone deacetylase has been shown to reanimate dormant HIV, but it was also seen that this class of drugs inflicts many toxic side effects, making it unviable as a treatment option. However, disulfiram was able to reanimate the virus without any side-effects, increasing detectable viral presence in the blood plasma.

Potential Use in HIV Treatment

Current antiretroviral drugs can keep HIV that is in the blood in check, but patients have to regularly take the drugs for the rest of their lives in case the dormant virus re-emerges. Disulfiram appears to flush everything out into the open. This is just the first step in the search for a cure.

The next step for the researchers is to confirm that the drug is, in fact, flushing out the dormant HIV through the viruses’ gene expression levels. That would then be followed by finding a way to kill them once they hit the bloodstream. So as is always the case, this breakthrough will need to be confirmed and reconfirmed before it can be released for treatment and use. But, as is also always the case, it provides us with new information and it could lead to a number of improvements for those affected by this condition.

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