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HIV Infections Make Cells Age Faster, Leading to Higher Mortality Risk

Apr 22, 2016 01:42 PM EDT
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HIV is known to damage the immune system, leaving the body defenseless against other types of infections and infection-related cancers. But now, new research reveals that HIV infections can also make cells age faster, leading to even greater mortality risks.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Cells, suggests that HIV infections can make people older an average of almost 5 years on a biological level.

Using a highly accurate biomarker, researchers measured signs of aging in the cell's DNA of 137 HIV-positive patients enrolled in the CNS Antiretroviral Therapy Effects Research (CHARTER) study. 44 HIV-negative people served as the control subjects.

The researchers discovered that people with HIV infection have an average of 4.9 years in advanced biological aging resulting to 19 percent increased mortality rates.

"We're no longer as worried about infections that come from being immunocompromised. Now we worry about diseases related to aging, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment, and liver problems," said Howard Fox, a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the authors of the new study, in a statement.

There is also no significant difference found in the methylation pattern between people who are infected with HIV for less than five years and people who are infected with HIV for more the 12 years. This means that those who are recently infected and those who are with chronic infection will experience the same advance biological aging associated with HIV infection.

As of date, there is still no cure for HIV. Scientists tried to use the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9, but the deadly virus developed resistance to the cure just after a few weeks.

Antiviral therapy is currently being used to treat HIV patients and help them live longer, but with the new discovery of age-related effects of HIV, researchers are now encouraging the development of a drug that can target the advance aging of the cells. Researchers also urge HIV-patients and their doctors to discuss vaccines and routine screenings for age-related diseases.

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