December 10, 2009
The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently awarded a five-year, $17 million grant to University of California-San Diego researchers to study the neurological effects of HIV infection and methamphetamine use. "Currently, the combined effects of meth and HIV are poorly understood," said Dr. Igor Grant, the UCSD psychiatry professor overseeing the grant, which will establish the Translational Methamphetamine AIDS Research Center.
The center will aim to translate its findings rapidly into potential treatments for patients. In 2007, 5,476 admissions to local drug treatment programs involved methamphetamine, according to a report from the San Diego County Methamphetamine Strike Force.
Some HIV/AIDS patients experience confusion, forgetfulness, weakness or numbness in the arms and legs for reasons that are not always clear. Many meth users also suffer confusion, insomnia, hallucinations, and behavioral shifts. Grant and colleagues will be studying this overlap by using imaging technology to observe the brains of patients handling various tasks, such as decision-making, risk-taking, and impulse control.
The center will also study whether methamphetamine worsens HIV by causing immune cells to "cough up" more viruses in the bloodstream, Grant said. The studies will recruit participants who have HIV, are addicted to meth or are HIV-positive meth users.