There is good news for HIV researchers and the approximately 36.9 million HIV patients across the globe. A very popular drug used to treat alcoholism—Antabuse—has been found to be a potent tool in the effort to treat the virus. Antabuse is well known as a drug of last resort for alcoholics. When taking it, if one consumes alcohol, Antabuse causes vomiting.
One of the challenges of current HIV antiviral drug therapies is that they are only able to destroy HIV cells present in the bloodstream. But it is well known that the virus can hide throughout the patient’s body, lying dormant for lengthy periods, thus escaping destruction. Once the patient stops taking the antiviral drug, the dormant virus can re-emerge. The only solution has been life-time use of antiviral drug therapies. Researchers have formulated other drugs to deal with these sleeper cells, such as histone deacetylase, that awaken the dormant HIV cells, but they come with serious side effects. This is the good news about Antabuse—there is no side effect.
In a three day drug trial in Australia and the US involving 30 HIV positive patients, Antabuse, scientifically known as disulfiram, succeeded in waking up dormant HIV cells, with no side effects even when administered at the highest dosage.
Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute and lead researcher, noted that even though the trial lasted only three days, the results give great hope for HIV treatment. Within such a short time, disulfiram produced a measurable increase in HIV cells in the blood, and there were no side-effects experienced by the trial participants. Another member of the team, Julian Elliott, from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, said that the study proves there is a safe drug that can awaken these dormant cells and it requires only a single daily dosage. This is an important first step in the process of getting rid of HIV cells in the body, and ultimately toward eradication.
The next step is to find a companion drug, and then doctors will have a powerful tag-team of ‘awake and eradicate’, giving a new life to HIV-infected individuals.