Promising HIV cure drugs less effective on the virus in the brain

Burnet Institute

07 September, 2015

Research team member and first author, Burnet Institute Senior Research Officer, Dr Lachlan Gray.

A Burnet Institute study has revealed treatments currently being trialled as a potential cure for HIV are less effective on the HIV virus in the brain compared to that found in the blood.

Published in the prestigious Nature journal, Molecular Psychiatry, the study tested a number of HIV ‘cure agents’ and found the two most promising of those, panobinostat and romidepsin, might not work effectively within the brain.

Research team member and first author, Burnet Institute Senior Research Officer, Dr Lachlan Gray said the research showed the HIV virus persisting in, and isolated from, the central nervous system is different to virus found in the blood.

“If HIV found in the brain was the same as in the blood, panobinostat and romidepsin would likely be effective in targeting HIV throughout the body,” Dr Gray said.

Senior author and Head of Burnet’s HIV Neuropathogenesis Laboratory, Associate Professor Melissa Churchill suggests that using a similar approach to current HIV medications could be the most effective approach.

“Using a cocktail of cure agents to combat the virus in the blood and the central nervous system might be the best way forward to achieve HIV cure,” she said.

The paper also addressed why each cure agent responded differently to virus in the blood and central nervous system.

“We discovered that brain viruses have different control mechanisms that regulate their replication in the brain to that found for blood viruses,” Dr Gray explained.

“Now we have identified that mechanism, we can potentially utilise other compounds that would bypass this block and target brain virus via other routes.”

The paper will be presented at an HIV Cure Symposium ‘Cure/Latency/CNS’ at the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine Conference in Brisbane on Thursday, 17 September.

This study involved investigators from several Australian institutions led by Burnet’s Associate Professor Melissa Churchill and Dr Lachlan Gray including: Professor Paul Gorry, RMIT University; Professor Steve Wesselingh, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Professor Sharon Lewin, Peter Doherty Institute; and Professor Bruce Brew, UNSW/St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.

The study was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, National Institutes of Health USA, and Burnet Institute.

More than 35 million people are living with HIV and it claims the lives of more than two million people each year. Modern drugs control the virus but are unable to eradicate it from ‘sanctuary’ sites like the brain or blood.


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