Scientists at UCLA AIDS Institute have announced that a chemical in Astragalus Root may replace or supplement current HIV/AIDS medications. Astragalus Root is a herb that has been used in Chinese Medicinal Formulas for centuries. It is generally considered very safe for human consumption. Researchers discovered that a chemical called TAT2 within the herb has the ability to preserve immune cell telomeres. Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of a cell's chromosomes that provides the cell with the ability to continue to reproduce so that a steady supply of immune cells are maintained in the body. Telomeres can also be activated by CD8 immune cells with an enzyme called telomerase that essentially allows the immune cells to continue to divide and reproduce until a substantial army has been produced to fight a viral infection. It's like adding water to one docile mogwai to get multiple ferocious gremlins to attack a virus. HIV chronically attacks and destroys immune cells so that telomeres are shut off and the immune system is left with less capacity to produce more necessary cells to combat HIV. In this way HIV eventually outnumbers and suppresses the immune system.
TAT2 was also shown to increase the ability of CD8 immune cells to produce soluble factors called chemokines and cytokines. Chemokines and Cytokines have previously been shown to block HIV's ability to create more copies of the virus.
The research article was published in the Journal of Immunology on November 15th.