The study says growth hormone may stimulate T-cell production. These are immune system cells that are attacked and destroyed by HIV, leaving people unable to fight infections.
The study was presented today at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, and was published in a recent issue of AIDS.
The researchers gave daily doses of growth hormone to five men infected with HIV. After six months, the men showed a major increase in thymus size, and in the number of new T cells circulating in their blood. The thymus is a glandular structure in the chest where T-cells develop.
This is the first study to show these kinds of growth hormone-related changes.
"The degree of change in the thymus was remarkable," says lead author Dr. Laura Napolitano, staff research investigator at the UCSF's Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology.
"Over the past five years, we have studied thymic function in more than 4 dozen similar patients who did not receive growth hormone, and we have never seen such striking changes in the thymus," Napolitano says in a prepared statement.
She stresses that this is a small, preliminary study and that growth hormone therapy is not ready to be used to treat people with HIV. Potential side effects include diabetes, bone pain, arm and leg swelling, abnormal bone growth and carpal tunnel syndrome.
For more about HIV and AIDS, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.