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Foot Fungus Drug Found to Eradicate HIV For Life

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Sep 25, 2013
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Scientists stumbled into a breakthrough when a recent study found that a drug prescribed for toenail fungus came with a handy side effect: It appears to eradicate infectious HIV cells, causing the mitochondria to commit suicide. Best of all, there’s no rebound of virus when the drug is stopped.

A study performed at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, revealed that not only does the drug Ciclopirox completely eradicate infectious HIV from cell cultures, but unlike today’s most cutting-edge antiviral treatments, the virus doesn’t bounce back when the drug is withheld. This means it may not require a lifetime of use to keep HIV at bay.

The same group of researchers had previously shown that Ciclopirox -- approved by the FDA and Europe’s EMA as safe for human use to treat foot fungus -- inhibits the expression of HIV genes in culture. Now they have found that it also blocks the essential function of the mitochondria, which results in the reactivation of the cell’s suicide pathway, all while sparing the healthy cells.

Researchers said that one aspect of HIV that makes it particularly persistent, even in the face of strong antiviral treatments, is its ability to disable a cell’s altruistic suicide pathway -- which is typically activated when a cell is damaged or infected. In other words, infected cells that would normally commit suicide to spare healthy cells no longer pull any altruistic kamikaze missions. Ciclopirox tricks these cells back into their old ways with a double negative, disabling the disabling of the suicide pathway.

Still needed are clinical trials on humans to study the safety and efficacy of Ciclopirox as a potential topical HIV treatment, but it’s already deemed safe for one type of human use, which could make the regulatory process faster than usual.

In fact, the researchers note that another FDA-approved drug now thought to help subdue HIV, called Deferiprone, skipped studies in animals and went straight from tests in culture to a phase I human trial in South Africa, possibly paving the way for other FDA-approved drugs to move faster through the study phases. (Unlike Ciclopirox, which is approved for topical treatment, Deferiprone is FDA- and EMA-approved for systemic use, meaning it effects more than just one part of the body.)

The new findings on Ciclopirox appear in the current issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/

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