By Andrea K. Walker
12:27 PM EDT, October 2, 2012
A drug commonly used by patients with HIV may be damaging nerve cells and causing memory loss, Johns Hopkins researchers have found.
Doctors have long thought the brain damage and memory loss longterm survivors of HIV suffer was caused by the disease. Johns Hopkins scientists now believe a large cause is the anti-retroviral drug efavirenz, which attacks and damages brain cells.
Efavirenz is one of the drugs patients with HIV use to suppress the disease. The researchers believe a minor change in the drug’s structure may be able to block its toxic effects and still allow it to suppress the virus.
Norman J. Haughey, Ph.D., lead researcher and an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine , said in a release that the research is further evidence of the health problems drugs to treat HIV can cause.
"Some people do seem to have this attitude that HIV is no longer a death sentence," Haughey said in a release. "But even with anti-retroviral treatments, people with HIV have shortened lifespans and the chance of cognitive decline is high. It's nothing you should treat lightly."
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