HIV Drugs May Help Stop Macular Degeneration

HIV Drugs May Help Stop Macular Degeneration

Recent research regarding how HIV drugs may help stop macular degeneration has emerged. Now and again pharmaceutical fixes for one health issue have shown benefits for other health issues. This is the way the active ingredient in Viagra (sildenafil) was discovered as it was originally being studied for hypertension. 

The discovery of the mechanisms and biological response of how HIV drugs show great promise in treating macular degeneration has prompted an urgent re-tooling of the medicine. Soon there may be a new and more effective medicine that can help those suffering with macular degeneration or AMD (age-related macular degeneration) as well as possibly using it as a preventative measure. 


It has long been known that there is one pesky protein molecule found in the cytoplasm of cells which is capable of attacking and destroying essential retinal cells. It is called Alu RNA and it can accumulate over time, eventually promoting death to the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE). The RPE is the crucial layer of cells responsible for nourishing sensory receptors that enable us to attain sight. Over time, Alu RNA can develop and then unexpectedly attack the retina and cause macular degeneration. 

It is not understood exactly why Alu RNA develops or how it leaves the cell to do damage but theories suggest that it may be due to a variety of factors such as genes and environmental triggers however diet may also play a huge role. Consuming a lifetime of processed foods, sugars, animal products, and vices such as tobacco and alcohol are considered to play a large role in not only Alu RNA development but also “turning on” genes that may have otherwise carried the molecule but not released it. 

Eating a primarily plant-based diet and supplementing with ARED (age-related eye disease study) vitamin and mineral recommendations are good applications to prevent or slow macular degeneration. However, conventional medicine has developed some good treatments for those already diagnosed with AMD but a recent pharmaceutical discovery may improve this treatment even more.

Reverse Transcription

It was determined that if Alu RNA was detected before it can do damage there could be some sort of treatment. Possibly detecting the path of this protein molecule might offer a pattern and deliverable medicine researchers might be able to apply. It was a bold attempt at looking into the past for anything that might stand out as an indication of how the Alu RNA was developed and why. What researchers found was far beyond their expectations. 

The Alu RNA search mission was carried out by scientists at the University of Virginia led by Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati, founding director of UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science, Fred H. Gage, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; and collaborators around the world. Special computers were used to investigate the medical records of 150 million people to decipher any kind of anomaly. What they were looking for revolved around a process linked to Alu RNA called reverse transcription. 

As reported by Drug Target Review, 

“According to the team [researchers at University of Virginia and Salk Institute] the toxic accumulation of Alu which causes RPE cell death is generated via this cytoplasmic reverse transcription. Based on this discovery, the researchers decided to look at drugs that inhibit reverse transcription, to see if they might help prevent vision loss. They analyzed multiple US health insurance databases – encompassing more than 100 million patients over two decades – and found that people taking NRTIs were significantly less likely to develop dry macular degeneration.”

Dr. Jayakrishna Ambati describes the discovery, 

“When we looked at the rates of macular degeneration, we found they were about 40% less common in patients taking these drugs compared to patients not taking these drugs,”

Once this was realized, researchers immediately began testing the possibility of using a recipe from HIV drugs (major reverse transcription inhibitors) that may be able to target the prevention of AMD. In turn, if in the early stages of macular degeneration, this new approach may be able to save the sight of millions currently going blind. 

HIV Drugs

It just so happens that within the long list of data the computers compiled on those afflicted with Alu RNA, the data also showed those not afflicted. In that long list of 150 million demographics and genomes the researchers were able to locate data that showed significance amongst those taking reverse transcriptase inhibitors. 

Dr. Ambati commented,

“This finding provides real hope in developing the first treatment for this blinding disease.” 

Drugs that weaken the HIV virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) are called reverse transcriptase inhibitors and it was this demographic that showed the high percentage of low Alu RNA incidence. Research is now underway in laboratory testing to determine if these reverse transcriptase inhibitors can be reformulated for mainstream application according to risk, current diagnosis and gene markers 

This type of data discovery is the beginning of how a digital world can support the biological world through data recognition. In addition, sifting through available records over the last decade or two may enable reverse transcriptase inhibitors to not only be applied to macular degeneration but also may be able to treat other related illnesses. 

Dr. Ambati once again gives his insight, 

“A clinical trial of these inflammasome-inhibiting drugs is now warranted,…It is also fascinating how uncovering the intricate biology of genetics and combining it with big data archaeology can propel insights into new medicines…Because it turns out that the same Alu molecule is promoting death of cells not just in the retina but also in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and in fact a few months ago we showed that people who take the same drugs are protected from Type II diabetes by about 30%.”

Overall, it is imperative to maintain a healthy lifestyle to support optimal immune function that can help prevent macular degeneration. However, if science can combine pharmaceuticals such as how HIV drugs may stop macular degeneration to save people from going blind, it would be an excellent combination alongside a good diet and exercise protocol.