Starving HIV of sugar could halt growth

John Hopton for – @Johnfinitum
HIV and cancer need a heavy supply of sugar and nutrients in order to flourish and cause increasing damage. However, scientists have found a way to cut off the pipeline that brings that supply to diseased cells in what could be a significant step in the treatment of both illnesses.
Researchers from Northwestern Medicine and Vanderbilt University discovered the switch that turns on immune cells’ abundant sugar and nutrient pipeline. By blocking the switch with an experimental compound, they found a way of effectively starving HIV to death, EurekAlert reports.
“This compound can be the precursor for something that can be used in the future as part of a cocktail to treat HIV that improves on the effective medicines we have today,” said corresponding study author, Harry Taylor, research assistant professor in medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“It’s essential to find new ways to block HIV growth, because the virus is constantly mutating,” said Taylor, also a scientist at Northwestern Medicine’s HIV Translational Research Center. “A drug targeting HIV that works today may be less effective a few years down the road, because HIV can mutate itself to evade the drug.”
Gentle and effective
HIV grows in activated T-cells (cells that are already responding to pathogens in the blood), which take on increased sugar and nutrients once activated. These supplies become the building blocks of genetic material the cells need to grow, but HIV also needs it and consumes it greedily.
“It’s a monster that invades the cell and says ‘feed me!'” Taylor said. “It usurps the entire production line.”
The team discovered that the increased intake happens after the body turns on a cell component called phospholipase D1 (PLD1). Then they used the experimental compound to block PLD1 and shut down the supply.
A similar approach was attempted in the 1990s, but the drugs used sometimes killed healthy cells and had serious side effects in HIV patients. This new method, the scientists say, is much gentler.
The compound was also found to slow down the proliferation of the abnormally activated immune cells, something which contributes to the life-long persistence of HIV and leads to excess inflammation that causes premature organ damage in patients. Current drugs do not address this problem effectively.
The link with cancer research
The idea to test this compound for HIV evolved from Taylor’s relationship with chemists at Vanderbilt University, where he was previously on faculty.
His Vanderbilt colleagues had identified a compound that stopped breast cancer cells from spreading by blocking PLD1 during their massive screening for potential drugs that block the growth of breast cancer cells.
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