BY LAURAN NEERGAARD The Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 03 Oct 2006
WASHINGTON – It’s an Achilles’ heel of HIV therapy: The AIDS virus can sneak into the brain to cause dementia, despite today’s best medicines.
Now scientists are beginning to test drugs that may protect against the memory loss and other symptoms of so-called neuroAIDS, which afflicts at least one in five people with HIV and is becoming more common as patients live longer.
With almost 1 million Americans, and almost 40 million people worldwide, living with HIV, that’s a large and underrecognized toll.
“That means HIV is the commonest cause of cognitive dysfunction in young people worldwide,” says Dr. Justin McArthur, vice chairman of neurology at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, who treats neuroAIDS. “There’s no question it’s a major public health issue.”
Although today’s most powerful anti-HIV drugs do help by suppressing levels of the virus in blood – so that there’s less to continually bathe the brain – they can’t cure neuro-AIDS. Why? HIV seeps into the brain very soon after someone is infected, and few anti-HIV drugs can penetrate the brain to chase it down.
“Despite the best efforts of (anti-HIV) therapy, the brain is failing,” says Dr. Harris Gelbard, a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He is part of a major new effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to find the first brain-protecting treatments.