September 21, 2011
The quest for low-cost HIV treatment may lie in finding virus-fighting properties among the thousands of drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, according to Vojo Deretic, chair of molecular genetics and microbiology department at the University of New Mexico.
Deretic's team has received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study existing drugs that could increase a cell's ability to combat HIV. The researchers are focused on a cellular process called autophagy, or Greek for "self-eating," in which cells produce specialized cellular subunits, called autophagosomes, that remove unwanted material. Thousands of drugs will be examined in search of compounds that encourage cells to produce autophagosomes in large numbers, said Deretic.
Central to the task is a screening device that produces high-resolution photographs of the cell interiors. A state-of-the-art computer program will "look inside the cell and see structures and quantify them," Deretic explained.
Rogaine, a hair regrowth treatment, is among the medicines showing early promise, said Deretic. Others include albuterol, a fast-acting asthma drug, and lithium, which is used to treat depression and bipolar disorder.
Later in the two-year study, the team will test combinations of the most promising drugs. "My feeling is it's going to take two [drugs] in a combination," said Deretic.
"We want to find the cheap drug, relative to what a new drug would cost, and see if it can do the trick," Deretic said.