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UK Advancing the Understanding of
HIV Treatment

By Jennifer M. Bonck

 

A team led by Eric Smart, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Physiology, UK College of Medicine, has been studying highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), a combination of drugs used to treat HIV. HAART includes protease inhibitors, which block the protease enzyme, a necessity for HIV to replicate itself. This treatment has resulted in a dramatic improvement in health status for a large number of HIV-infected patients.

 

Feb. 7, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- The dream of a doctor and a patient is a treatment with all of the benefits and none of the harmful side effects.

University of Kentucky researchers are one step closer to making this dream a reality in the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

A team led by Eric Smart, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Physiology, UK College of Medicine, has been studying highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), a combination of drugs used to treat HIV. HAART includes protease inhibitors, which block the protease enzyme, a necessity for HIV to replicate itself. This treatment has resulted in a dramatic improvement in health status for a large number of HIV-infected patients. However, some patients using HAART have experienced harmful side effects, causing concern for its use in long-term treatment for HIV. Adverse effects include abnormalities in lipid metabolism, such as high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Scientists and clinicians have not been certain of whether atherosclerosis is directly caused by protease inhibitors, or through high triglyceride and cholesterol levels—that is, until now.

Smart and his team, including researchers in the departments of Physiology and Infectious Diseases, both in the UK College of Medicine, as well as the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences, have shown that HIV protease inhibitors directly promote atherosclerosis in mice. These findings, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, indicate that protease inhibitors may directly cause atherosclerosis. An accompanying commentary, by heart specialist David Hui, M.D., professor of medicine, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, discusses the study’s implications.

Smart notes the significance of the findings. “Future study will lead to ways to modify protease inhibitors by disrupting the mechanisms that cause heart disease,” he said. “In the future, this work may result in more effective treatment for those suffering with HIV.”


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