U of M researchers land $5.7M grant to employ a new approach in the fight against HIV

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Program in HIV Medicine have been awarded a $5.7 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test a new treatment approach in the fight against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

In clinical trials supported by the latest grant, University researchers will employ an FDA-approved drug with anti-fibrotic and anti-inflammatory properties to reverse the inflammatory damage caused by HIV replication in lymphatic tissues in an attempt to restore the population of immune cells (CD4 cells) that are essential for normal immune responses.

If successful, the trials could point to a new adjunctive therapy for HIV that could improve immune function and lead to a functional cure for the disease. The approach could also help protect HIV infected people from diseases associated with ongoing inflammation like heart attacks, blood clots and cancer.

“Current therapy for HIV does not cure the infection and patients still have early mortality, from conditions like cancer and other conditions associated with decreased immunity,” said Timothy W. Schacker, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Program in HIV Medicine. “Our goal is to identify ways to heal the tissues damaged by HIV replication so the antiretroviral therapy can have a better chance of eliminating reservoirs of infection throughout the lymphatic system.”

According to Schacker, one of the reasons patients don’t see an ideal response to HIV therapy is that virus replication in the lymphatic tissues causes significant inflammation that damages those tissues to the point where they can’t function normally.  Unless the tissue damage is reversed, the immune system will continue to be abnormal. The University’s new treatment approach is aimed at reversing this damage and improving immune function. 

In new clinical trials, University of Minnesota investigators will use a drug called losartan to determine if the drug can prompt a reversal in inflammatory damage and if immune function improves. Losartan is a drug used to treat high blood pressure in a select group of patients, but it has also been found to have unique anti-inflammatory properties that may reverse the fibrotic damage caused by HIV infection. The study will last two years.

Collaborators in this project will include Daniel Douek, M.D., Ph.D., and Richard Koup, M.D., of the Vaccine Research Center at the NIH. 

The project will be supported by grants AI105872-01, AI054232-06 and AI054232-03 from the National Institutes of Health.