HIV viral fragment delivers promising acute liver failure treatment

By blending the substance with a non-infectious fragment of HIV, researchers in Germany believe that they've developed a treatment that helped reverse acute liver failure in mice. The journal Hepatology publishes the innovative study, which grew from work by scientists at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and the Helios Klinikum in Berlin.

For the research, scientists determined that they needed to stop an overabundance of apoptosis, or programmed cell, to combat acute liver failure. In cancer, by contrast, scientists try to switch apoptosis on to make cancer cells kill themselves.

To test their thesis, they started with ARC, a recently discovered protein expressed in the heart, skeletal muscle and brain (not the liver) and serves as a type of survival switch for the body that represses apoptosis. (The team previously determined that ARC successfully stopped myocardial cells from destruction during heart failure.) Next, they melded together ARC and TAT, a tiny, non-infectious piece of HIV designed to deliver the ARC directly to the liver. They gave the TAT-ARC combo to mice with acute liver failure via an intraperitoneal injection, and say the combination began to work almost immediately, stopping liver apoptosis and enabling the mice to completely recover.

The drug didn't have to be administered long, which scientists say is a safeguard to avoid the risk of cancer by creating a low-apoptosis environment in which cancer cells might flourish.

Beyond their initial finding with the TAT-ARC combo, the scientists also learned that ARC can do something else. It seemed, they said, to have a mechanism that kicks in to block the movement of the molecule JNK. JNK starts a damaging process that begins with clicking on liver immune cells and culminates with another molecule being set free to cause liver cell death. So to say the least, this additional role for ARC appears to be a very good thing.

Here's the usual disclaimer: Animal results may be promising here, but the real test will be human trials, and they don't always produce the same results as in mouse studies. But the researchers are encouraged enough that they patented TAT-ARC to treat acute liver failure (and they call it a "fusion protein"). Additionally, they are eyeing human clinical trials "soon" but no date has been set.

- read the release
- check out the journal abstract

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