Sexual transmission of HIV under attack

A recent study may provide a crucial step in reducing the amount of HIV in the semen of infected patients. This in turn could hold great implications for reducing the chances of sexual transmission of the disease.

The research was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and was carried out by the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Group in Barcelona, Spain. Semen has been considered a reservoir of the virus, which has proven to be a tricky target for drugs in the past.

The researchers investigated the speed at which a new drug, Dolutegravir, can reduce the amount of HIV in the semen of patients. This new drug is amongst a group of treatments, called integrase inhibitors. These act by blocking the viral enzyme, integrase, preventing it from inserting it’s viral DNA into host cells. Other studies show that these drugs reduce the amount of HIV in patient blood and semen significantly faster than previous treatments.

The amount of HIV in the blood and semen was measured before treatment, then at varying intervals ranging from three days to six months after treatment. It was already known that the rate of reducing the amount of virus is faster in the early stages of treatment, eventually leveling off as time progressed.

The researchers developed a model of the amount of virus in both blood and semen throughout the described treatment. They observed that the amount of virus in the semen becomes undetectable much faster than in the blood. This was assumed to be because there are many more viruses present in the blood overall.

Dr. Daniel Podzamczer, the leading researcher, noted that only a small percentage of the drug in the blood reached the semen. The concentration of the drug in the semen however, was more than enough to reduce the amount of HIV in this reservoir.

The findings, although in need of replication, support the current clinical guidelines with integrase inhibitors as the first line of treatment. Although HIV can be passed on through different methods, sexual transmission is the most common channel. So if the results of this study are confirmed, great improvements to preventative strategies of HIV could be implemented.

Sarah Barfield Marks is studying for an MSc in Science Communication.

Banner Image: Negative HIV Result, ktsdesign

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