Aurotherapy – the branch of medicine that uses chemical compounds of gold to treat disease – has been around for many years now. However, that doesn’t mean the science behind aurotherapy isn’t advancing. Scientists have theorized that gold could be the key to finding a cure for HIV.
Current antiretroviral therapy for HIV does not target the virus directly. Rather, the goal in a treatment cycle is to reduce the number of cells that contain the viral DNA. With enough treatment, patients can achieve a state where their level of HIV actually falls below detectable levels. However, treatments have never been able to eliminate every single infected cell. Eventually, the virus rebounds and respreads throughout the body necessitating more treatment.
Primarily, gold compounds play a role in the treatment of autoimmune diseases – most notably rheumatoid arthritis. Auranofin, a gold-based oral drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, works by decreasing the pool of central memory T-lymphocytes without affecting the body’s ability to generate new T-lymphocytes. Of these T-cells, central memory CD4+ T-cells pose the biggest roadblock in antiretroviral treatments. CD4+ T-cells live for many years – forming a very long-lasting reservoir of HIV in infected patients.
Italian and American researchers reported in the journal AIDS that, by administering auranofin after intensive antiretroviral therapy in macaque monkeys, they could reduce the population of HIV-infected T-cells without affecting new, uninfected T-cells. This resulted in HIV “remission” for a much longer period of time when compared to treatments that did not incorporate the gold-based drug.
The treatment still needs lots of testing before moving on to clinical trials, but it may lead to a functional cure for HIV. Once again, precious metals play a vital role in the study of medicine.