Though the symptoms of Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) can be controlled with a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, the disease, caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, does not have a permanent cure as yet. The treatment of AIDS, however, has got a major boost with scientists from Bengaluru reporting in a study that if the mutation rate of HIV virus is increased by two to six times, it could become ineffective against its host/human body in 10 years. Lead researcher Narendra Dixit, however, cautions that by increasing the mutation rate, such a person will not get cured, but their findings reveal how long it will take for the virus to become non-infectious, and the disease non-progressive.
Some of these drugs to increase the mutation levels are already undergoing clinical trials. According to the researchers, a major advantage of these drugs is that they are not susceptible to drug resistance. Hence, Dixit, who is an associate professor at Department of Chemical Engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, said that in the coming years, with better drug combinations, the treatmentWINDOW could be reduced further. Their findings have been reported in “Physical Biology” journal.
Scientists have so far failed in their efforts to find a permanent cure as HIV virus mutates or changes rapidly, thus making drugs and potential vaccines ineffective. This implies that by the time a drug tries to make the virus ineffective, another mutant that is resistant to the drug, has already developed. Hence, this latest finding isIMPORTANT because it establishes that a threshold level exists for HIV and the virus loses its potency level if its mutation rate is increased by over six times its current or natural mutation rate.
“One reason why researchers have not been successful in their endeavour to find a permanent cure for HIV/AIDS is because of the high rate at which the virus mutates, causing it to overcome the selection pressures imposed by drugs and potential vaccines. From the virus’s point of view, however, there is a flipside to having very high mutation rates. If it increases beyond a tipping point, called error threshold, then it leads to low fitness in the virus population, making it an ineffective pathogen,” said Dixit.
Prof Dixit and his team have been studying the process of infection caused by HIV and its evolution using certain computer simulation models in the laboratory, which allow them to closely track the fitness levels of the genetically diverse populations within a host and the factors that contribute to it.
The finding also has implications for how we treat AIDS, said the research team. High mutation rates can be induced in HIV using a special class of anti-retroviral drugs. If the mutation rate can be raised to the error threshold, then, in principle, the virus can be prevented from causing progressive infection. This research shows that, in fact, such a benign state can be achieved by using mutation-inducing drugs for a period of about 10 years. For their study, the research team used information from the drugs which are currently under trial. They demonstrated in their simulation model that by administering these drugs for 10 years, the replicating HIV will become harmless. This, according to experts, can be an alternative method or strategy to attacking and eventually killing the virus