We know that the HIV virus loves sugar and needs it to thrive. Finding a way to cut off its supply could eventually lead to a cure, as without the sugar it cannot replicate.  Scientists have tried to do this before, way back in the nineties, but the compounds used at that time were too toxic and killed normal cells. Now a team, from the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern Medicine’s HIV Translational Research Centre, have unlocked the switch that turns HIV’s sugar and nutrient source on and off and succeeded in halting its growth.

Once HIV infects a cell it hijacks the cells machinery and feeds off the nutrients, to help it replicate and stay alive. This new compound could be a precursor for drugs to be used as part of a cocktail to treat HIV and improve on the effectiveness of our  current drugs.

The original idea came after scientists discovered that breast cancer hijacks the body’s sugar sources. They noticed that when they cut off the supply to sugar, it stopped the cancer cells from spreading. They postulated that they could do the same with HIV and turns out that they were correct.

This important discovery also opens up new avenues for research into avoiding resistance, decreasing the inflammation that leads to premature ageing for people with HIV and hopefully one day might help lead us to finding a cure for HIV, according to Dr Richard D’Aquila the director of Northwestern.

When HIV enters the blood stream it infects active immune cells called  CD4 T-cells. HIV then needs sugar to grow inside these cells and this helps it grow the number of cells infected which then attacks the other cells in the body. This is thought to be the reason that people with HIV suffer with premature ageing and excess inflammation. Our current anti-HIV medication can stop HIV replication quite successfully, but is unable to do anything about the immune systems reaction to HIV which causes these other associated problems. The new compound seems to be able to stop this process, without harming any of the non infected cells.

The hope is that in the future this compound will help slow the growth of these immune cells and in turn reduce dangerous inflammation and who knows, maybe even thwart the latent HIV virus that persists in the body.