University of California, Los Angeles, AIDS Institute researchers say a chemical from the Chinese medicinal herb may help immune cells stave off the progressive loss of disease fighting ability caused by HIV, infections associated with chronic diseases or aging.
Immune cells are compromised as they age and their chromosomes -- known as a telomere -- become progressively shorter with cell division. The Astragalus root chemical prevents or at least slows down telomere shortening, the study said.
"This has the potential to be either added to or possibly even replace the HAART -- highly active anti-retroviral therapy -- which is not tolerated well by some patients and is also costly," study co-author Rita Effros said in a statement.
In a study published in the Journal of Immunology, Effros and colleagues show how the herbal plant chemical -- called TAT2 -- helped inhibit HIV replication.
"The ability to enhance telomerase activity and anti-viral functions of CD8 T-lymphocytes suggests that this strategy could be useful in treating HIV disease, as well as immunodeficiency and increased susceptibility to other viral infections associated with chronic diseases or aging," the researchers said in a statement.