Combining Two Cancer Drugs May Help Fight HIV

Author:  Jessica Lear
Institution:  West Virginia University
Date:  November 2010

In August, University of Michigan researchers released information regarding the effects of combining two drugs to combat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The two drugs, decitabine and gemcitabine, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cancer treatment. Together they cause the virus to evolve so much that it dies.

In order to test the combination of decitabine and gemcitabine, a mouse model was used. At the end of the study, this drug combination showed to be an effective way in treating HIV. The lethal evolution approach to HIV treatment has been attempted before, but never without toxic side effects. However, no harmful side effects resulted from this combination, a fact that will only expedite the drug in the approval process.

Since the FDA has already approved both decitabine and gemcitabine individually, there is hope that it will be easier to get their combined use approved in a timely fashion. The University of Minnesota virology lab is now beginning to develop the drugs for human oral consumption while conducting trials on larger mammals. Decitabine and gemcitabine could become accessible to the general population as a combined drug if these trials succeed.

HIV currently affects approximately 33 million people worldwide. It can develop into acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is to date incurable. HIV is acquired through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. The virus attacks the immune system and mutates rapidly, making it very difficult to target. The University of Michigan researchers utilized HIV's ability to mutate against itself by forcing it to mutate so much that it dies.

With the combined effects of decitabine and gemcitabine, researchers hope to begin the process of eliminating HIV. Louis Mansky, a molecular virologist states, "The findings provide hope that such an approach will someday help the 33 million people worldwide who currently live with HIV." Should the decitabine and gemcitabine treatment succeed, researchers will be one step closer to eliminating deaths due to HIV-infection and AIDS.

Author: Jessica Lear

Reviewed by: Karuna Meda and Yangguang Ou

Published by: Maria Huang