PARIS — Scientists in the United States said Wednesday they had used a cancer drug to flush out the AIDS virus lurking dormant in trial patients’ white blood cells — a tentative step towards a cure. The ability of the HIV genome, or reproductive code, to hide out in cells and be revived after decades poses a major obstacle in the quest for a cure. Being able to expose the virus in its hiding place would allow scientists to target the host white blood cells in a killing blitz. “It is the beginning of work toward a cure for AIDS,” David Margolis, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature, told AFP. HIV is a retrovirus, inserting its DNA into the genome of host white blood cells, CD4+T cells in this case, and turning them into virus factories. Sometimes it goes into hiding in some cells even as others keep on producing.
In the latest study, researchers in the United States used the chemotherapy drug vorinostat to revive and so unmask latent HIV in the CD4+T cells of eight trial patients. The patients were also on antiretroviral drugs, which stops HIV from multiplying but have to be taken for life because they do not kill the virus hidden in reservoirs. “After a single dose of the drug, at least for a moment in time, (vorinostat) is flushing the virus out of hiding,” Margolis said of the trial results — the first drug ever shown to do so.