The study conducted by the UCLA AIDS Institute, found that a chemical in the Astragalus root, which is often used in Chinese herbal therapies, fights HIV and reduces the ageing process in other parts of the body.
As is the case with all other cells, even the immune cells lose their ability to divide with age, because a part of their chromosome, known as telomere, becomes progressively shorter with cell division.
Hence, the cell changes in several ways, and the ability to fight diseases too, gets compromised.
With this new study, it has been found that the chemical TAT2 can prevent or slow down the progressive shortening of telomere. An enzyme called telomerase helps rebuild telomere.
The Professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Rita Effros, along with her colleagues, extracted killer T-cells from HIV-infected people and exposed them to TAT2, which is a drug extracted from the root of Astralagus plant that helps in boosting telomerase production.
Effros noticed that TAT2 reduced telomere shortening, increased the ability of the cells to divide, and also enhanced their antiviral activity. This effect was however hindered when another second drug was used to inhibit telomerase.
“This has the potential to be either added or even replace the HAART (Highly active anti-retroviral therapy) which is often not tolerated well by patients and is costly,” Effros concluded.
According to Effros, TAT2 could be used to supplement existing anti-retroviral drugs by boosting the immune system of people with HIV.