A team of University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers has changed the chemical structure of an existing HIV drug to help it reach cells and tissues where the virus resides.

The work, which the scientists said could hasten an eventual HIV cure, is detailed in the Feb. 5 issue of the journal Nature Communications. The study was led by Dr. Howard Gendelman, professor and chairman of UNMC’s Department of Pharmacology and Neurosciences, and Benson Edagwa, an assistant professor in the department.

Using a scheme that alters the properties of the antiviral drug dolutegravir, the UNMC scientists took the modified drug and placed it into nanocrystals. The drug crystals easily distributed throughout the body to tissue reservoirs of HIV infection.

While such drugs have been successful at keeping HIV at bay, the virus is able to hide out in tissues such as lymph nodes, bone marrow, the gastrointestinal tract and spleen. The virus can still replicate in these reservoirs, even when it’s been driven to undetectable levels in the blood. Researchers, including Gendelman and his colleagues, have been working to devise treatments that would eliminate them. They’ve also been working to change the course of treatment so patients have to take the drugs less often than the current daily routine.

In mice, the UNMC team’s drug scheme extended the life of the drug itself and facilitated its entry into hidden body compartments when injected while increasing its action in reducing viral growth.

“The strength of this system is that it not only can be effective in improving HIV care and prevention,” Edagwa said in a statement, “but it can be applied to many classes of drugs beyond HIV, such as drugs used to treat cancer, other infectious diseases and degenerative diseases that affect the brain.”

Edagwa designed the drug chemical modifications. Also instrumental in the discovery were graduate student Brady Sillman and Aditya Bade, an instructor in the department.

UNMC has plans to complete a nanomedicine production plant that will make it possible to produce the drugs and others like it on campus beginning this fall. Patents have been filed and supported by UNeMed, UNMC’s technology transfer arm, and ViiV Healthcare, a subsidiary of drug maker GlaxoSmithKline. The research was funded by ViiV Healthcare and research grants from four institutes of the National Institutes of Health.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

(1) comment


Nature Communications is not a published journal like NEJM and LANCET but rather a peer reviewed, open access (no charge) web site run by the same company that publishes NATURE magazine. There is no Feb 5 edition. The site is updated twice a month and has a large volume of articles of numerous scientific disciplines listed with each update. Those wishing to read this article (which I found most interesting) would have an easier time of it by simply searching for recent articles using the last names of the two authors mentioned in the article. I have long been intrigued by the concept of nanomodification (and other chemical engineering process protocols) to modify the absorption, metabolism etc of drugs to increase their killing efficiency. In 2005, i consulted with a team in Singapore that was seeking to give new life to anti-malarial drugs through such a process. I have also been interested in modifying agents used against TB to increase their potency through slowed release/metabolism (which would also help in the horrific problem with non-compliance which has contributed to the resurgence of this scourge). The results with mice realized by the UNMC team are most encouraging. But there is a long gap between this and the time consuming and costly human trials that will provide the proof in the pudding (a cure). By the time that happens, the WH will only be found on the web (if at all). I would also caution that Big Pharma is not really interested in finding cures unless they can corner the market on something that will replace the revenue generated by treating the disease targeted. This has been especially so in trying to get money for new anti TB meds.

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