Researchers have investigated house cats, Russian mushrooms, a nail fungus remedy, and more in their constant study of what kills HIV. Here they are.
Eradicating a Monkey Virus
An HIV vaccine candidate developed by the Oregon Health and Science University and tested on monkeys could hold the key to unlocking a cure for humans. Researchers administered the experimental HIV vaccine on a population of monkeys infected with SIV, a related virus found in primates, and discovered that 50 percent of their subjects no longer tested positive.
In developing the vaccine, researchers modified cytomegalovirus, a member of the herpesvirus family, in order to reprogram the body’s immune system to find and destroy SIV. In more than half of cases, the virus was “banished from the host,” said OHSU researcher Louis Picker, MD.
“Through this method we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defenses’ to combat the disease,” Picker said.
Although the results of the simian tests were promising, Picker said it is still too soon to celebrate. A version of the vaccine would have to be tested on human subjects before it could be widely available, and development of that human version could take up to three years, he said.
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the study took place at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, in collaboration with the Oregon National Primate Research Center. The findings were published in September in the weekly science journal Nature.
Siberian Mushrooms to Stop It
Scientists from a research lab in Siberia believe a strain of mushroom is capable of combating HIV. Three different types of mushrooms, used as folk remedies in Russia since the 16th century, can be successfully developed into antiviral medicines, officials with the Vector State Research Center said in September.
Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, the state-funded Vector was a biological weapons facility that researched ways to produce mass genocide via deadly viruses such as smallpox. Today, the Vector research base seeks to combat many of those same viruses. Its tests found the Chaga mushroom, which grows on the region’s birch trees, to be most effective in protecting cellular DNA from damaging free radicals. In recent years Chaga has become a popular dietary supplement in the West; is believed to be the most potent due to its high concentration of betulinic acid. Laboratory tests show the acid is toxic to cancer cells and slows the growth of several kinds of tumor cells and HIV, according to the American Cancer Society.
According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, no clinical trial has assessed Chaga’s safety or efficacy. But the Russian scientists said they intend to use the mushrooms to produce medicines and called the approach “a promising line of development.”
Using a Common Nail Fungus
Researchers believe the antifungal drug ciclopirox has unique potential to fight HIV. A study by Rutgers New Jersey Medical School published recently in the journal PLOS One found the drug completely eradicated HIV from cell cultures.
Ciclopirox reportedly has a characteristic that prevents the virus from recovering when the drug is withheld, unlike other antiviral drugs. Researchers say that means it could end current requirements that people with HIV be on medication for their lifetime.
The drug, which is administered topically for fungal infections, causes HIV-infected cells to “commit suicide” by interfering with a cell component called mitochondria, the researchers say. Ciclopirox’s HIV-fighting ability has so far only been tested in cell cultures, so it will still need to go through clinical trials on humans to study its safety and efficacy as a potential HIV treatment.
The fact that it is already deemed safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human use to combat other infections, though, could make the regulatory process go faster than usual.
What Your Cat Knows About HIV
Humans might have something to learn from their feline friends when it comes to fighting HIV.
When scientists added a protein from the cat AIDS virus to blood from HIV-infected humans, the human blood showed an immune response that could become the basis for developing a vaccine.
The feline immunodeficiency virus triggers anti-HIV T-cell activity in humans, said University of Florida researcher Janet Yamamoto. “In humans, some peptides stimulate immune responses, which either enhance HIV infection or have no effect at all, while others may have anti-HIV activities that are lost when the virus changes or mutates to avoid such immunity,” she said.
Although previous studies combined HIV proteins as vaccine components, none worked well enough, Yamamoto said. “Surprisingly,” she said, “we have found that certain peptides of the feline AIDS virus can work exceptionally well.”
Findings from the study, a joint project of the University of Florida and the University of California, San Francisco, were published in the October issue of the Journal of Virology.