HIV implant could 'revolutionise' the way patients are treated, by releasing drugs automatically into the body

  • Device similar to the contraceptive implant could 'revolutionise' HIV care
  • Releases antiretroviral drugs - which prevent the virus replicating 
  • Current treatment is difficult to stick to because they're typically prescribed three different drugs - to prevent HIV becoming resistant
  • Experts hope new implant could sit under skin for up to 12 months 

A new matchstick-sized implant could 'revolutionise' the way HIV patients are treated, experts claim.

The device, which is similar to the contraceptive implant and is designed to sit underneath the skin, delivers antiretroviral drugs to patients.

Research has shown strict adherence to these medicines is vital in suppressing HIV.

They work by preventing the virus from replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself, and help prevent any further damage. 

They reduce the amount of HIV in a sufferer's blood - their viral load - to very low, or undetectable levels.

A new matchstick-sized implant could 'revolutionise' HIV treatment, by delivering antiretroviral drugs to patients automatically for a sustained period of time, expert hope

A new matchstick-sized implant could 'revolutionise' HIV treatment, by delivering antiretroviral drugs to patients automatically for a sustained period of time, expert hope

With an undetectable viral load, HIV is not able to damage a person's immune system.

This form of treatment can also be used as a means of preventing the spread of HIV.

Those on successful HIV treatment plans are unlikely to pass on the virus to a sexual partner, and similarly a mother is less likely to pass it to an unborn child.

But patients can struggle to adhere to their prescriptions, typically juggling a number of different drugs to take.

Combination therapy, as it is known, usually involves a patient taking three antiretrovirals, because HIV can adapt quickly, and become resistant to drugs. 

But scientists at the Oak Crest Institute of Science in California believe their new invention could offer a more effective means of treating patients.

The device works by delivering a controlled amount of antiretroviral drugs over a sustained period of time.

Early tests in animals have shown no side effects over a 40-day period.

Study author and founder of Oak Crest, Dr Marc Baum, said: 'To our knowledge, this is the first implant to be used for this purpose.

'This novel device will revolutionise how we treat or prevent HIV and Aids as it delivers powerful HIV-stopping drugs and eliminates one of the key obstacles in HIV/Aids prevention - adherence to proper dosing regimens.'

He said medical practitioners and scientists acknowledge that one of the main drawbacks of current treatments is the problem of patients keeping up with taking their drugs.

'It's unfortunate, but patients do not always follow the dosing instructions as prescribed,' he said.

'In clinical trials erratic administration of drugs has led to highly variable efficacy outcomes.

'That's what peaked our interest in the possible use of a subdermal implant for the prevention of HIV.' 

The new device, designed by a team at Oak Crest Institute of Science in California, is similar to the contraceptive implant, pictured, and is designed to sit under the skin

The new device, designed by a team at Oak Crest Institute of Science in California, is similar to the contraceptive implant, pictured, and is designed to sit under the skin

The implant, a small flexible tube, measures around 40mm in length and is designed to be inserted under the skin by a healthcare professional.

Dr Baum added: 'Our subdermal implant is used in the same manner as a contraceptive implant.

'It is easily inserted and removed and provides sustained release of the potent pro-drug tenofovir alafenamide.

'This is roughly 10 times more potent against HIV than tenofovir disoproxil fumarate - another pro-drug that has been shown to prevent sexually transmitted HIV, when used as a pre-exposure prophlaxis. 

'We are very pleased with the results of our preliminary studies and are working diligently to develop a subdermal implant for HIV prevention that will remain effective for a full 12 months.'

Dr Baum's teams' findings were published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 

Commenting on the breakthrough, Dr Rosemary Gillespie, CEO of the Terrence Higgins Trust., said: 'Administering antiretroviral medication through an implant potentially represents an exciting new way of providing treatment for people living with HIV. 

'Currently, antiretroviral medication has to be taken daily and orally.

'We know there are times when patients do not always adhere to their dosing instructions, so an implant could possibly overcome this challenge.'

She added: 'But most important to note here is that efficacy in human remains to be proven with this implant.

'We recommend people living with HIV join our online peer service, myHIV, where they can get advice and support on taking their medication.'

 

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