Researchers say uncover HIV, insulin resistance link

ST. LOUIS Tue Nov 23, 2010 6:19pm EST

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ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine say they have uncovered why so many people with the HIV virus develop a dangerous insulin resistance that leads to diabetes and heart disease.

The culprit lies in the powerful drugs that prevent the development of AIDS and have extended the lives of many HIV patients, the researchers say. They hope the discovery will allow development of safer antiviral drugs.

The research, published this month in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, shows HIV protease inhibitor drugs directly interfere with the way blood sugar levels are controlled in the body. This leads to insulin resistance, a condition that occurs when the body produces enough insulin but doesn't use it properly.

Paul Hruz, a professor of pediatrics and biology at the School of Medicine, led a team that found first-generation protease inhibitors, including the drug ritonavir, a protein that transports glucose from the blood into the cells where it is needed.

This raises blood sugar levels, a hallmark of diabetes.

"Our lab has established that one of the effects of these drugs is blocking glucose transport, one of most important steps in how insulin works," Hruz said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Now that we've identified the main mechanism, we will look to develop new drugs that treat HIV but don't cause diabetes."

Hruz said that about 25 percent of HIV patients develop diabetes.

The team is working with a drug developer to create a new HIV drug that the virus does not develop resistance to.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus the human immune system can't rid itself of on its own. It attacks a key part of the immune system, leaving the body open to infections and diseases including AIDS, which is the final stage of the disease.

The government estimates there are more than 56,000 new cases of HIV a year and more than 25 million people have died of AIDS since it was first recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in 1981.

(Reporting by Bruce Olson; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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