An Aspirin A Day May Keep HIV Away

University of Manitoba Study Shows Success with Kenyan Women

The Journal of the International AIDS Society (JIAS) has published the results of a study conducted by researchers from the universities of Manitoba, Waterloo and Nairobi, Kenya and the Public Health Agency of Canada, supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a Rising Stars grant from Grand Challenge Canada, showing that an affordable, globally available, cheaply produced drug—low-dose Aspirin—shows promise as a new tool in preventing HIV transmission.

The pilot study built on existing research into the role of inflammation in HIV transmission. Transmission of the virus requires a susceptible target cell in the human host. Activated immune cells are more vulnerable to HIV infection than resting cells. And researchers have known that inflammation activates HIV target cells and moves them to the female genital tract. The study assessed the effects of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin) and other anti-inflammatory drugs on HIV target cells in Kenyan women at low risk for HIV. Participants took the same daily low dose regimen of Aspirin that is commonly recommended for long-term care of cardiovascular disease. According to U of M’s press release, participants said they liked that Aspirin does not carry the stigma associated with known anti-HIV drugs, a difference which could make regimen adherence much easier and more consistent.

The researchers found that Aspirin is the most effective of the anti-inflammatory drugs assessed. It reduced the number of HIV target cells in the female genital tract by 35 per cent.

“These are highly promising results,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Keith Fowke, head of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Max Rady College of Medicine in the U of M’s Rady Faculty of Health Sciences. “Further research is needed to confirm our results with Aspirin and test whether this level of target cell reduction will actually prevent HIV infections,” Fowke said.

“If so,” he continued, “this could be a strategy for HIV prevention that is not only inexpensive, but easily accessed globally. People living in poverty are disproportionately at risk of acquiring HIV. We need prevention approaches that are affordable and immediately available.”

For more information: Ilana Simon, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, U of M, 204-295-6777, or email: [email protected]

— Reporting by Hank Trout

Hank writes the “For the Long Run” column in A&U; follow him on Twitter at @HankTroutWriter.