Study suggests aspirin reduces HIV target cells in women

Women who regularly take aspirin could significantly reduce inflammation associated with contracting HIV, new research finds.

The pilot study, released Thursday, does not suggest that taking aspirin will prevent transmission of the disease. The research also did not factor in men.

However, researchers at the University of Manitoba say further research could build on the pilot study and one day prove that aspirin — a cheap, widely accessible drug — is another effective tool for HIV prevention.

The report included researchers from the universities of Manitoba, Waterloo and Nairobi and the Public Health Agency of Canada. The group looked at a sample group of low-risk, HIV negative women living in Kenya.

For six weeks, the women were given either aspirin or hydroxychloroquine, another anti-inflammatory drug. The low dosage of aspirin was similar to the amount commonly used for long-term prevention of cardiovascular disease.

At no point in the study were the women exposed to HIV. Instead, researchers wanted to look at whether taking either of the drugs could lower the number of HIV target cells in the women’s’ female genital tracts.

The researchers’ hypothesis was that, by lowering activated immune cells – the cells proven to be more at risk of HIV infection — they could potentially lower the risk of the infection.

After six weeks on the drugs, researchers found that women who took aspirin saw those HIV target cells drop by 35 per cent. Those taking hydroxychloroquine also saw a significant drop.

The findings are particularly promising, researchers say, because the number of HIV target cells among women who took aspirin were close to the number of HIV target cells among a unique group of Kenyan sex workers who, despite being regularly exposed to HIV, remain uninfected.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Keith Fowke, the head of the University of Manitoba’s department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases, said further research is needed to determine whether aspirin’s level of target cell reduction will actually prevent HIV infections.

“We just have to have the evidence that tells people that in addition to taking other HIV prevention measures, you could add onto that using aspirin,” Fowke told CTV Winnipeg.

Kenneth Omollo, a PhD student with the University of Nairobi who worked on the study, said the promising findings could make a major difference in his home country.

“It is a huge concern and there is a lot of efforts being put to towards halting new infections and getting those who are already infected on treatment,” he said.

With files from CTV Winnipeg