'Sweet Tooth' May Be 'Achilles' Heel' of HIV

Researchers block virus from feeding on sugar, starve it to death
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2015 12:17 PM CDT
'Sweet Tooth' May Be 'Achilles Heel' of HIV
This image shows an H9 T cell, blue, infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), yellow.   (AP Photo/NIAID)

Imagine you're hankering for a snack, but your refrigerator is chained up. Now imagine you're the HIV virus, and inside your fridge is the food you need to grow and spread. A new study from Northwestern Medicine and Vanderbilt University provides the chains: Researchers say they've found a way to block the virus from feeding on sugar and other nutrients in the active immune cells it invades, causing it to starve, they explain in a post at EurekAlert. By using an experimental compound to block the path to the food, researchers found the virus couldn't replicate in human cells in vitro. "This compound can be the precursor for something that can be used in the future as part of a cocktail to treat HIV," the study author says.

As Medical Daily puts it: "HIV builds an army that feeds off sugar, and knowing how to cut off its supply could eventually lead scientists to a long sought after cure." A similar method was tested in the 1990s, but the drugs used were also found to kill healthy cells and led to grim side effects. This latest attempt "is a gentler, non-toxic way to block HIV access to the cell's 'pantry,'" researchers say. It also stops the excess activation and growth of immune cells responsible for organ damage and the "life-long persistence" of HIV. Previous research found a similar compound stopped the growth of breast cancer, which also needs sugar and other nutrients to grow. (An Indiana county is battling an HIV epidemic.)

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