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The Making of Medicine

Could HIV Drugs Help Stop Both Diabetes and Vision Loss? Studies Say Yes.

Interesting news on the drug-repurposing front: After determining that HIV drugs known as NRTIs may help prevent diabetes, our Jayakrisha Ambati, MD, has found that they may also help prevent dry macular degeneration.

The promising lead stems from a surprising discovery about DNA. Dr. Ambati and his colleagues found, for the first time, that DNA can be made in the cytoplasm of our cells. (The cell nucleus is typically considered the home for our genetic material.)

The researchers found that a certain type of DNA, Alu, can build up in the cytoplasm, and this buildup appears to contribute to dry macular degeneration by killing off an important layer of cells that nourishes the retina’s visual cells.

Based on this finding, the researchers examined drugs that block the production of Alu,. They analyzed U.S. health insurance databases that encompass more than 100 million patients spanning two decades and found that people taking NRTIs were almost 40% less likely to develop dry macular degeneration.

“We are extremely excited that the reduced risk was reproduced in all the databases, each with millions of patients,” Dr. Ambati told me. “This finding provides real hope in developing the first treatment for this blinding disease.”

The researchers are urging further study to determine if these drugs or safer derivatives known as Kamuvudines could help prevent vision loss from dry macular degeneration.

“A clinical trial of these inflammasome-inhibiting drugs is now warranted,” Dr. Ambati said.

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