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AIDS Drugs May Protect Brain
Date:10/11/2007

Study found levels of protein indicating damage returned to normal in many HIV patients

THURSDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Preliminary research suggests that potent AIDS drugs might stop the brain damage that afflicts many people infected with HIV.

The findings are based upon measurements of a brain protein, not extensive cognitive testing, so it's not clear exactly what they mean for thinking processes in patients. Still, the research is promising, said study author Dr. Asa Mellgren, a researcher with the Clinic of Infectious Diseases SAS and Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden. The finding is published in the Oct. 9 issue of Neurology.

"In a few patients followed for 10 years, we did not see signs that HIV will do any more damage as long as the patient stays on an effective [drug] treatment," Mellgren said.

While it doesn't get a lot of attention, it's not uncommon for AIDS patients to develop brain damage and lose their ability to think clearly, explained Dr. Stuart Lipton, a neurologist with the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of California at San Diego.

In fact, AIDS is the leading cause of dementia in people under the age of 40, Lipton said.

The good news is that the brain damage seems to have become less severe over the past decade, thanks to a new generation of powerful AIDS drugs. "We see a lot more cases of what we call minimal cognitive impairment," Lipton said, causing people to have trouble concentrating.

"It's not this raging dementia anymore," he said. "But it keeps you from working and doing your daily activities, so it's still a problem."

In the new study, researchers examined levels of a protein in 53 HIV patients who began treatment with drugs known as highly active antiretrovirals. This so-called "cocktail" of drugs is considered the best treatment for HIV.

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