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NIH Allocates Funds to Study Drugs That Might Prevent Cognitive Dysfunctions Among HIV-Positive People

October 4, 2006

NIH is funding a recent effort aimed at studying drugs that might prevent dementia and other cognitive dysfunctions among HIV-positive people, a condition also known as "neuroAIDS," the AP/ABC News reports. At least one in five HIV-positive people experiences memory loss and other cognitive dysfunctions that can occur when the virus affects the brain, and the number is increasing as HIV-positive people live longer. According to the AP/ABC News, HIV can enter into the brain soon after transmission, but current antiretroviral drugs often prevent the onset of cognitive dysfunction symptoms among most HIV-positive people until four years before death. Harris Gelbard, a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, is part of the NIH-funded effort aimed at finding treatments that can prevent the effects of HIV on the brain. Gelbard said he estimates the condition reduces the mental function of an HIV-positive person by 25%. "HIV is the commonest cause of cognitive dysfunction in young people worldwide," Justin McArthur, vice chair of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, said, adding, "There's no question it's a major public health issue." Kathy Kopnisky of the National Institute of Mental Health said that HIV-positive people are "living longer with HIV in the brain ... [a]nd they're aging, so they're going through the normal brain aging-related processes" that can leave them susceptible to Alzheimer's and other brain degenerating diseases. NIMH is spending $60 million to research the effects of HIV on the brain. NIH-funded efforts are focused on discovering which antiretrovirals best treat HIV-positive people with memory problems, as well as which drugs protect nerve cells against the inflammation-related effects of HIV, the AP/ABC News reports (Neergaard, AP/ABC News, 10/2).

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