How your DNA can help your ARV treatment

Did you know that your DNA could be preventing you from optimising your Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment?

HIV, a virus, transmitted from an HIV carrier through certain bodily fluids, attacks the body’s immune system and therefore weakens the system which is responsible for fighting infections. Although there is still no cure for HIV/AIDS, Anti-retroviral Drugs (ARVs) are available to help slow down the effects and provide a better quality of life for patients who are infected with the virus. Although it may seem like a simple solution to a complicated disease, there is a significant problem with these drugs that can severely affect their efficacy.

Many ARV drugs cause terrible side effects for the patients, to the extent that they stop taking the medication. “When someone is taking ARV medication it is important that they remain consistent with their treatment. Taking the medication continuously needs to be non-negotiable,” said Dr Danny Meyersfeld, CEO of DNAlysis Biotechnology.

There are many different types of ARV’s available however, depending on one’s personal tolerance, side effects can occur no matter which type of medication one chooses. Some side effects of the medications include severe nausea and fatigue, lipodystrophy (change in fat distribution in the body), liver toxicity or intense anxiety and depression. These side effects often cause the patient to stop taking the medication altogether. There is, however, a light amongst the darkness in the form of DNA profiling for HIV patients. “Profiling not only helps one modify the treatment they are on but can help the doctor select the best alternative medicines, should the one the patient is on not be optimal,” said Professor Collen Masimirembwa , an expert in gene-based dosing of HIV medications.

A study which was conducted in Zimbabwe last year revealed that patients who had variations in the gene code CYP2B6 had a higher chance of developing side effects because of the toxic blood levels of the drug metabolites. After this research came to light, a dosage algorithm was developed so that patient dosages could be adjusted to best suit their specific genes. In the case of Efavirenz and CYP2B6 variants, it was shown that dosages could in some cases be reduced by as much as 50% with no loss of efficacy, but complete elimination of side effects. “The study showed that patients who are homozygous for the normal activity or heterozygous for it are best treated with 400 mg a day whilst those who are homozygous for the low activity variants need only 200 mg/day,” said Professor Masimirembwa.

“By understanding the role that genes play in ARV treatment, we are able to help people find a dosage that best suits their genes. If we can prescribe ARVs in the correct dosage to HIV patients, there will be a higher rate of continued treatment and patients will not feel so inclined to stop their treatment,” said Dr Meyersfeld.

If you are looking to understand your genes better, order your test from the Medcheck website: