Common HIV Drugs May Prevent Leading Cause of Vision Loss
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Scientists have identified a group of drugs that may help stop a leading cause of vision loss after making an unexpected discovery that overturns a fundamental belief about DNA.
The drugs, known as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, or NRTIs, are commonly used to treat HIV. The new discovery suggests that they may be useful against dry macular degeneration as well, even though a virus does not cause that sight-stealing condition.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine looked at four different health insurance databases and found that people taking NRTIs have significantly reduced risk of developing dry macular degeneration, even though that condition isn’t caused by a virus.

“We are extremely excited that the reduced risk was reproduced in all the databases, each with millions of patients,” the researchers said. “This finding provides real hope in developing the first treatment for this blinding disease.”
The class of NRTIs includes such common HIV drugs as Viread, Retrovir, Videx, Ziagen, and many others. They work against HIV by blocking reverse transcriptase, one of the enzymes the virus uses to reproduce its DNA. The researchers decided to analyze the effects of drugs that block DNA production after they realized that the buildup of a certain type of DNA known as Alu can contribute to dry macular degeneration — the thinning of the macula, the portion of the retina responsible for clear vision in a person’s direct line of sight — by destroying a layer of cells that nourishes the retina.

They analysed multiple U.S. health insurance databases – encompassing more than 100 million patients over two decades – and found that people taking NRTIs were almost 40% less likely to develop dry macular degeneration.
The researchers are urging further study to determine if these drugs or safer derivatives known as kamuvudines, both of which block a key inflammatory pathway, could help prevent vision loss from dry macular degeneration.

“A clinical trial of these inflammasome-inhibiting drugs is now warranted,” said researchers. “It’s also fascinating how uncovering the intricate biology of genetics and combining it with big data archaeology can propel insights into new medicines.”