Persons with both HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) develop liver disease that progresses faster and is more severe than it is in individuals with only one infection.
It's not known why co-infection speeds up liver disease, but researchers at UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth hope to find out with the help of a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Antiviral drugs allow patients with HIV to live longer, but those who are co-infected with HCV face a more than five-fold higher risk for cirrhosis-related liver complications.
Cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease accounts for approximately 50 percent of all deaths in co-infected patients and is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality of such patients in Western countries, said In-Woo Park, PhD, Associate Professor in Cell Biology and Immunology and the grant recipient.
"They're not dying from AIDS," he said. "But they are dying from liver disease."
Dr. Park believes that the HIV-1 viral protein Nef plays a critical role in the acceleration of liver disease.
"If we can block the transfer of NEF, we may be able to at least impede or deter the progression of the liver disease," he said.
Once it is understood why liver disease progresses so rapidly in co-infected individuals, the next step is to develop prognostic biomarkers and therapies against this malady, Dr. Park said.
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