November 12, 2009
An upcoming San Francisco-based study will attempt to use samples of participants' hair as a tool for gauging HIV treatment adherence. In the "Strand Study," researchers from the city Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) will test people's hair to measure both treatment compliance and drug metabolism efficiency.
"Currently, we don't have a truly accurate measure of how well people are taking their medications and how well they process drugs," said Dr. Albert Liu, director of HIV prevention intervention studies at SFDPH. Blood tests can measure the presence of HIV drugs in the short-term but not over time, he said.
Hair can be used for longer-term studies of adherence because drug molecules bind to pigment in the hair, Liu said. Hair also can assist in human HIV chemoprophylaxis studies, determining whether results are influenced by regimen adherence.
The National Institute of Mental Health is funding the Strand Study, which is seeking 24 HIV-negative adult men and women with dark hair. Darker hair has higher levels of pigment to which drug molecules bind, so measuring HIV drug levels in dark hair can be performed more easily, Liu said.
Volunteers will be paid up to $1,300 to take three varying doses of tenofovir over six weeks: one pill twice weekly, four times weekly and every day. Tenofovir was chosen because it has fewer side effects and has a good safety profile, said Liu. The pill-taking has to be directly observed either at UCSF or at SFDPH's Van Ness Avenue offices. The study, which researchers hope to launch in the next couple of months, also involves one 24-hour hospital stay to measure blood levels.
For more information, visit www.helpfighthiv.org.