Current anti-retroviral drugs do not eradicate the virus since it burrows deep into the DNA of immune cells where it goes to sleep.
They found that the cancer drug vorinostat altered how the HIV genes were turned on and off, essentially waking up the virus that persists in patients on standard HIV treatment.
Twenty HIV-positive patients in Victoria were the first in the world to join the two-week trial of vorinostat.
Professor Sharon Lewin, director of infectious diseases at the Alfred Hospital and co-head of Burnet Institute’s Centre for Virology, said the results were promising and showed that the virus could be woken up in nearly all patients who took vorinostat.
“We know that the virus can “hide” in cells and remain out of reach from conventional HIV therapies and the immune system,” Prof. Lewin said.
“We wanted to see if we could wake the virus up – and using vorinostat we have successfully done that.
“We’ve shown we can wake up the virus – now we need to work out how to get rid of the infected cell. A kick start to the immune system might help.
“We have an enormous amount still to learn about how to ultimately eradicate this very smart virus,” she said.
The Alfred Hospital, Burnet Institute, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS collaborated on the research.