Gold to treat HIV/AIDS?

The country is battling to control the world’s highest AIDS tally after India, and to treat thousands of malaria and cancer cases. Scientists are now developing gold-based drugs to include in the ever-growing array of medicines to fight the illnesses.

“This year is probably our most exciting, because in the beginning of the year we identified a series of gold-based drugs that are very active in the fight against cancer,” said Judy Caddy.

She heads medical research at the national mineral researcher Mintek’s Project AuTEK.

Project AuTEK is a joint venture between Mintek and SA’s largest mining houses, AngloGold Ashanti, Goldfields and Harmony. It looks at the research and development of novel industrial applications for gold.

“Various researchers said ‘we have got all these cancer drugs and we really need a cure for HIV, what about testing these compounds in relation to HIV?’,” said Caddy.

The drugs tested on cancer also showed promising results in treating malaria and HIV.

“What they found was that these drugs indeed have therapeutic value for HIV,” she said.

A key HIV researcher at the AuTEK biomed team, Raymond Hewer, said gold-based drugs had demonstrated the ability to inhibit HIV replication in test tube experiments. Once fully developed, the drugs could be considered as a potential choice of therapy for individuals infected with HIV, he said.

Scientists still needed to test their findings on live specimens – which could take time and yield unexpected results.

Caddy stresses that HIV gold-based drug research, which involves taking an HIV-infected cell and subjecting it to a drug to see if it inhibited the HIV, started only in the middle of last year.

“We still have a way to go,” she said, saying it can take as long as 20 years for drugs to move from initial tests to commercialisation.

Of research into the three diseases, cancer treatment was the most advanced.

Scientists have identified gold-based drugs that are active, which means that the disease was being inhibited, and selective, meaning that just the disease was being targeted and not healthy cells as well.

Research into drugs preventing malaria, a disease that affected more than 5300 South Africans last year, was progressing quickly, Caddy said.

Although researchers are getting results from their tests, they do not quite know how gold-based drugs work, Caddy said.

She said her team’s research would prioritise finding out how the drugs worked.

“The difference between platinum-based drugs or other precious-metal drugs is that it is seen as the carrier of a therapeutic entity to a target,” Caddy said.

“Gold metal itself is therapeutic ‘ and that’s what is important.”

That may be what SA’s 5,5million people living with HIV/AIDS would like to hear. ‘ Sapa-AFP.

September 2006
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