Current anti-retroviral drugs that patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) take may be effective in keeping the infection from spreading, but they are ineffective in providing a long-term solution, since the virus reemerges once a patient stops taking them. Now, a new study sheds light on an alternative treatment that could completely remove the infection, and it comes in the form of a fairly common anti-fungal foot cream.

Ciclopirox, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is typically used by dermatologists and gynecologists to treat fungal infections. But researchers at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School previously discovered that applying it to HIV-infected cell cultures inhibited the expression of the infectious genes. In their new study, they found that the cream also stopped HIV from deactivating the cells’ altruistic suicide pathway. By doing this, cells were once again able to commit suicide in order to prevent the spread of infection, according to a statement. Furthermore, they also found that discontinuing use of Ciclopirox didn’t come with a resurgence of the virus.

They noted that another FDA-approved drug, Deferiprone, which is used to treat patients with iron overload, went straight from test cultures to phase I clinical trials in South Africa after the drug was found to inhibit HIV gene expression. “A drug-based drug discovery program, based on these compounds, is warranted to determine the potential of such agents in clinical trials of HIV-infected patients,” the researchers said, according to io9.

HIV treatments have taken large steps toward becoming a reality as of late. Earlier this month, two vaccines proved effective in aiding the body’s immune response. The first one, known as SAV001-H, uses a genetically engineered version of a killed-whole HIV-1, and has already passed phase I clinical trials in humans. The second, tested in monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), helped the body produce a constant source of “effector memory” T-cells, which are able to destroy SIV-infected cells.

HIV affects more than 1.1 million Americans with almost one in five unaware that they are infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While rates of new infections have remained stable, at about 50,000 per year, the number of people living with HIV has increased over the past 10 years.

Source: Hanauske-Abel H, Saxena D, Palumbo P, et al. Drug-Induced Reactivation of Apoptosis Abrogates HIV-1 Infection. PLOS One. 2013.