UC receives $3.4 million NIH grant to study treatment for HIV and hepatitis C

Cincinnati-- Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Academic Health Center have been awarded a $3.4 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to evaluate causes of liver injury following use of antiretroviral drugs for HIV-infected patients who also have hepatitis C.

Left untreated, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can progress to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The immune deficiency is caused by the loss of special white blood cells, called CD4 or "T" cells, which are essential for the body to defend itself against infectious diseases.

"Liver disease is one of the major causes of illness in HIV-infected patients who also have hepatitis C," says Kenneth Sherman, MD, PhD, director of the UC College of Medicine's digestive disease division and principal investigator of the trial. "More than a million Americans have HIV and 25 percent of those also have hepatitis C."

In what is known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), three or more antiviral medications such as efavirenz, tenofovir and emtricitibine are taken in a combination as a treatment for HIV and AIDS. Currently, about 20 different HIV antiviral agents are available in four different drug classes. Patients must take the different pills, as many as 10 a day, at different times and stick to a strict schedule, taking each of the different types and numbers of pills at the same time every day. The success of this triple-drug combination cocktail lies in its ability to disrupt HIV at different stages of its replication.

However, says Dr. Sherman, "In patients with both HIV and hepatitis C, as the HIV virus declines, we often see a simultaneous worsening of hepatitis C and detect abnormal results in blood tests that measure liver function.

"This study will attempt to determine whether liver damage is coming from the HIV medications or from the hepatitis virus itself," Dr. Sherman explains.

Contact: Sheryl Hilton
University of Cincinnati

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