The efforts of humankind in fighting off AIDS, have been nothing short of heroic. The amount of money, time and effort that we have collectively dedicated to fighting this as of yet incurable disease is simply incalculable, and so are the sweat and tears we have shed at every defeat. Time and time again, we have been disappointed by studies for cures and vaccines, because the HIV virus mutates and develops resistance to the drugs prescribed for its treatment. However, a ray of hope shines in the horizon as new possible treatments have been revealed, and they come from an unexpected source.
Two topical antifungal creams heretofore used to treat such common ailments as athlete’s foot seem to have an effect on the HIV virus, and the infected cells within the human body that harbor it, that even the latest generation of anti-retroviral drugs have failed at achieving: Defeating the virus’ ability to develop resistance to the prescribed treatments. For a person who is diagnosed with HIV infection, treatment consists of a veritable ordeal. Drugs must be taken on a very strict schedule for the pathogen to not develop resistance to the pharmaceutical “cocktails” used against it.
Part of the HIV virus’ seeming invulnerability is that when it infects a cell, it hijacks its internal workings. Normally, the cells that the human body is composed of, upon recognizing infection by a foreign body would start what might be called a suicide protocol, in order to prevent further spread of the disease. However, in the case of HIV, the pathogen takes control of the mitochondria to prevent that from happening, the virus then uses the infected cell to reproduce until that cell has fulfilled the virus’ purpose, at which point it goes on to infect other healthy cells, and continues to do so until the patient dies from opportunistic infections that would not affect persons whose immune systems have not been compromised.
The current anti-retroviral drugs can keep this cycle of reproduction of the HIV pathogen from spreading quite effectively; however, even a small lapse in the strict schedule under which they must be administered can cause the particular strain of the virus with which the patient has been infected to develop resistance to the prescribed treatment.
However, research done at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School indicates that both ciclopirox, and deferiprone, medications that are normally used as the active ingredients in topical antifungal creams, can stop the HIV virus from preventing infected human cells to commence the “suicide protocol” once they are infected, thereby preventing further spread of the disease.
Only time will tell if this new research will result in a cure or a vaccine for HIV; but it certainly has deepened our understanding of the virus, and further investigation might result in practical therapies.
More research has to be done; but every potential silver bullet that we have in our arsenal as we fight against this deadly affliction is worth investigating, and these particular drugs hold a lot of promise as treatments in the battle against HIV.
By Milton Ruiz