HANGZHOU, July 19 (Xinhua) -- A drug typically used to treat AIDS-triggered lung infections may be able to prevent the reproduction of HIV and possibly provide a new method for the control and elimination of the virus, Chinese scientists said Thursday.
A research team led by Shen Binghui, a life science professor at Zhejiang University in east China's Zhejiang province, found that a drug containing pentamidine can cut the life cycle of HIV and prevent the reproduction of the virus, which can help protect the body's immune system and hence prevent the development of AIDS.
HIV has an incubation period of ten years on average, during which the virus infects immune cells and uses the cells and proteins to reproduce and spread, gradually damaging the immune system. When the immune system can no longer fight the virus, the symptoms appear.
Research indicates that a kind of human protein called FEN-1 has a decisive function in the reproductive process of HIV.
Shen said his team found that the drug can effectively prevent the reproduction of HIV by destroying the protein. The virus can no longer cause any damage to the immune system once it cannot reproduce, and a small amount of HIV can even be eliminated by a healthy immune system.
HIV has a high mutation rate and can develop resistance to drugs through continuous genetic mutation. The human protein is more stable, making the new therapy more effective in the long-term.
Popular "cocktail therapies" are comparatively advanced and effective, but also very expensive, costing every patient about 22,000 U.S. dollars per year on average. Shen said the drug that his team is developing can greatly lower treatment costs.
Scientists said it will at least take eight to ten years for the drug to finish its clinical trials and come to market.
Since 1981, when AIDS was first reported, the epidemic has been rapidly spreading across the world. There were about 34 million HIV-infected people globally in 2010, and AIDS is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the world.