UNC study will test therapies to eradicate HIV infection—medicine’s holy grail

September 3, 2009 -- Researchers from the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases have received $2.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test new therapeutic agents that may eradicate HIV infection.

The two-year study will discover drugs that can completely “purge” HIV from the system, including the reservoirs where it hides from current antiviral therapy.  It is because of these reservoirs that no one with HIV infection has been cured, said David Margolis, M.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study.

Small molecules will be initially screened in an artificial HIV system. Potential drugs will then be rescreened in human cell systems and tested in a "humanized" mouse model, created by J. Victor Garcia-Martinez, Ph.D., who recently joined the UNC faculty as professor of medicine from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. 

Finally, the best candidates will be tested in cells from HIV patients.
 
“If we are successful in the initial two-year study, the next steps would be pre-clinical testing and eventual patient clinical trials at UNC,” said Margolis, who also is a professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Stable remission or cure of infection is the ultimate goal of HIV therapy, but lifelong therapy presents significant economic and practical challenges.  “It is therefore imperative that we understand the biological obstacles, and begin to add tools that target latent or persistent infection to the variety of approaches that we must take to address the ongoing HIV pandemic.  Chronic suppression of infection with life-long drug therapy cannot be our only long-term approach to dealing with HIV infection,” Margolis said.

"Eradication of HIV is the holy grail,” said Garcia, the study’s co-principal investigator.  “It represents what has always been the unthinkable:  finding a cure for AIDS."

The grant is funded through an NIH Integrated Clinical Pre-Clinical Program Project Grant that supports integrated research projects involving a number of investigators who share knowledge and common resources and seek a clinical application of their research in HIV disease.  Collaborators on the study include Merck Research Laboratories and Case Western Reserve University.

UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases contact: Lisa Chensvold, (919) 843-5719, lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu