HIVAIDS cure update: 'Shock-and-kill' disulfiram may help cure lifelong HIV infection

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As Dec.1 World AIDS Day approaches, encouraging updates on an HIVAIDS cure may give health organizations and people living with HIV/AIDS a “cautionary” hope. HIV infection may no longer be a lifelong infection, thanks to a long-known drug, disulfiram. Antabuse, generically known as disulfiram, is currently used to create a temporary sensitivity to alcohol in recovering alcoholics in their withdrawal phase. Taking in alcohol when on the medication induces vomiting, as well as some other unpleasant side effects such as headache, nausea, and mental confusion. The same drug may give hope in the light of the AIDS pandemic.

As of March 2015, 15 million people are accessing antiretroviral therapy to decrease risk of progression to AIDS or death. However, the virus may still lie dormant in certain hidden HIV reservoirs that may spark reinfection once the treatment is stopped.

Results were published in The Lancet regarding a dose-escalation study carried out in Melbourne and San Francisco involving 30 HIV-positive individuals who were on anti-retroviral therapy and tested latently for HIV infection. The study found that disulfiram may be used to activate latent HIV with no serious side effects or death.

Disulfiram ‘flushes out’ these hidden reservoirs in a “shock-and-kill” approach, after which other drugs can be given that will “kill” the virus and eliminate it from the body once and for all. The study concludes that the drug may be suitable for studies on combination and prolonged therapy to activate latent HIV.

Since its discovery in the 1980s, AIDS has caused 36 million deaths worldwide. Global statistics for 2014 show that deaths from AIDS-related illnesses were at 2 million while 36.9 million people are now living with AIDS. Drugs such as disulfiram could help stop the AIDS pandemic, especially now that the five-year strategy to end it is starting to show some results, with estimates showing that new infections have fallen by 35 percent since its peak in 2000, according to UNAIDS.