Could HIV drugs be used to treat a leading cause of blindness?

Post date: 
Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Drugs traditionally used to control HIV/AIDS infections, could soon be harnessed to treat the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in the UK, according to research.

A study led by the University of Kentucky in collaboration with researchers from Cardiff University found that Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs), that  are used to treat  HIV, could now be used to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), as well as other inflammatory disorders.
There are no approved treatments for dry AMD, but this latest research could offer hope.
“We were really excited to find that NRTIs worked in treating AMD by blocking a signalling pathway involving a protein molecule, the cell-surface receptor P2X7, already known to be implicated in a number of inflammatory disorders,” said Dr Mark Young from the Cardiff University School of Biosciences.
“Our work presents the first evidence for a potential therapy for the untreatable dry form of AMD, a condition which affects millions of people worldwide, with a drug that is already approved for use in humans. It also paves the way for repurposing of the NRTI drug family for treatment of a wide variety of inflammatory diseases whose existence hinge on the involvement of the P2X7 protein.”
NRTIs are the most widely used class of anti-HIV drugs; they are thought to be therapeutic in HIV/AIDS patients because they target the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which is critical for replication of HIV. Previous research has found that a type of toxic molecule, called Alu RNA, accumulates in the retina to cause dry AMD; Alu RNA and HIV are similar in that they both require reverse transcriptase to fulfil their life cycle.
Young hopes that clinical trials can begin soon.
Dr Maria Dawson, from the RNIB eye health campaigns team, said the research was still at an early stage. "It offers hope for finding an effective therapy for dry AMD, for which there is currently no treatment, but extensive clinical trials are needed to establish whether this treatment is safe and effective for use in the eye," she said. 

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