Scientists who study HIV are facing a troubling consequence of their own success. They created drugs that can now give infected patients almost normal life expectancy. However, those same drugs will eventually cause the constantly mutating virus to evolve into a form that eludes current treatments.
With a new $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Missouri is leading a team of researchers who want to stay a step ahead of HIV by finding new pathways for shutting down the virus. The scientists are developing new compounds designed to target an enzyme in HIV called RNase H, which has escaped the reach of existing drugs.
"Patients stay on these drugs for decades, so there will come a point where resistant strains of the virus will develop," said Stefan Sarafianos, PhD, principal investigator for the NIH project and Chancellor's Chair for Excellence in Molecular Virology at MU. "Our goal is to be ready for the mutating virus with new treatment options so we're not left empty-handed."
As HIV copies itself in humans, it can mutate into forms that escape the effects of previously effective treatments. More than 1.1 million people in the United States live with HIV infection, and 1 in 5 are unaware they are infected. HIV is one of the world's leading infectious killers, claiming more than 25 million lives over the past three decades.
"There are four enzymes present in HIV, and there are current drugs that target three of those enzymes," said Michael Parniak, PhD, co-investigator for the project and professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh. "RNase H is the last HIV enzyme being targeted, and there are no compounds currently in preclinical development designed for it."
|Contact: Laura Gerding|
University of Missouri School of Medicine