London: A class of anti-retroviral drugscommonly used to treat HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa andlow income countries, can cause premature ageing, a new studyhas claimed. The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics,found that the drugs damage DNA in the patient`s mitochondriathe `batteries` which power their cells.? According to the researchers, the findings may explainwhy HIV-infected people treated with anti-retroviral drugssometimes show advanced signs of frailty and age-associateddiseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia at anearly age.
Nucleoside analogue reverse-transcriptase inhibitors(NRTIs) -- of which the most well known is Zidovudine, alsoknown as AZT -- were the first class of drug developed totreat HIV. They were a major breakthrough in the treatment of thedisease, greatly extending lifespan and leading the conditionto be seen as a chronic, rather than terminal, condition. In high income countries, the older NRTIs are usedless commonly now due to concerns over toxicity andside-effects. But, the drugs have proved to be an importantlifeline for people infected with HIV in Africa and low incomecountries. Professor Chinnery said: "HIV clinics were seeingpatients who had otherwise been successfully treated but whoshowed signs of being much older than their years. This was areal mystery. "But colleagues recognised many similarities withpatients affected by mitochondrial diseases -- conditions thataffect energy production in our cells -- and referred them toour clinic."
In an attempt to understand what was happening at acellular level, the researchers studied muscle cells fromHIV-infected adults, some of whom had previously been givenNRTIs. They found that patients treated with NRTIs -- even aslong ago as a decade previously -- had damaged mitochondriawhich resembled that of a healthy aged person. Co-author and HIV specialist, Dr Brendan Payne, alsofrom Newcastle, believes that despite the side effects causedby NRTIs, they are still important drugs and the risks arerelative. "These drugs may not be perfect, but we must rememberthat when they were introduced they gave people an extra tenor twenty years when they would otherwise have died," he says. "In Africa, where the HIV epidemic has hit hardest andwhere more expensive medications are not an option, they arean absolute necessity." PTI
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