The battle against HIV and AIDS continues. The virus that causes these conditions has wreaked havoc on millions of lives. The World Health Organization estimates that, in 2011 alone, some 1.7 million people died of HIV/AIDS related illnesses. Although the life expectancy for individuals with this virus was initially extremely short, in recent years the drugs that are used to combat this condition have improved greatly, allowing individuals with the virus to live without too much pain or duress for decades.
However, these drugs are not cures. They treat the condition by essentially keeping HIV replication at a minimum, and the drugs must be taken for life or the HIV will proliferate and spread. Thus, they do not cure the patient. That said, in the past few years we have progressed by leaps and bounds, making amazing new headway in the fight against HIV and AIDS. For example, several people who were diagnosed with HIV were cured by use of chemotherapy. The first recorded case involved a United States citizen who was living in Berlin and received a stem cell transplant in 2010. Although this “cure” has many issues, it has been successfully utilized several times since.
Now, scientists have discovered that an anti-fungal drug known as Ciclopirox causes HIV to commit suicide. The cells have a natural suicide mechanism in it that activates if the cell is damaged or impacted by things like a virus, making it easier for the healthy specimens to procreate. This drug can trick the cells into turning off the mechanism that keeps it from killing itself, eradicating the HIV infected cells without harming the healthy cells. Essentially, the Ciclopirox impacts the HIV by jamming up the mitochondria in the cell. So this new drug combats HIV in two ways: It inhibits the expression of HIV genes, and (this is the kicker) it blocks the function of the mitochondria. This block reactivates the cell’s suicide pathway. Notably, the healthy, uninfected cells that were a part of the culture were not impacted or destroyed. Amazingly, the virus did not bounce back when Ciclopirox was removed.
And unlike current anti-HIV drugs, Ciclopirox completely eradicates infectious HIV from cell cultures, with no rebound of virus when the drug is stopped.