NOV 20, 2015 4:57 PM PST

Alcoholism Drug Brings Out Dormant HIV-Infected Cells - So That It Can Be Destroyed

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet

A new use of an old drug might be the "game changer” researchers were looking for in their quest to cure HIV.

Disulfiram, a drug used to treat alcoholism, drags latent HIV out of hiding, without any harmful side-effects. Once dragged out, the virus can be targeted and destroyed. The discovery is an important step towards tackling HIV latency. HIV latency allows the virus to integrate into the DNA of the host cell and avoid the immune system. While the latent virus doesn't usually cause symptoms, doctors still need to destroy it. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to target and remove the latent virus from the cell without destroying the cell itself.
Researchers have come one step closer to eradicating HIV.

Scientists have found drugs in the past that draw the virus out. Those drugs, however, induce too many toxic side-effects to be considered an option for treatment. 

Infectious disease scientist Sharon Lewin led a team of international researchers in a quest to find a non-toxic drug capable of activating HIV in the body. The findings were published in The Lancet on November 16, 2015. 

Researchers in Melbourne and San Francisco gave Disulfiram to 30 HIV positive participants in progressively higher doses for three days. The first two dosages, 500mg and 1000mg, did not produce a measured effect. The third dose, 2000 mg, drew the dormant virus out. On day 10, the amount of virus RNA in the participant's blood plasma increased by 70 percent. On day 30, the amount increased to 100 percent.

Unlike the other drugs, no serious side effects were recorded.

Researchers now need to figure out how the drug reacts in combination with other HIV therapies, and how will it affect patients who take the drug over a longer period of time. 

While there are still unanswered questions, Disulfiram has the potential to help the 35 million people living with HIV today. 

Sources: The Lancet, The University of Melbourne via The Melbourne NewsroomWHO, ScienceAlert
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to
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