News Release: Research , School of Medicine

Jan. 21,  2011

Cocaine, HIV/AIDS Drug Interactions Probed With $5.7M NIH Grant

News Article ImageThe effect of HIV/AIDS and its therapy on gene expression is an important aim of the study, which will be carried out using laboratory mice.

Researchers agree cocaine injures the heart and predisposes users to HIV/AIDS because of risky behaviors. What’s more, the anti-retroviral medicines used to treat HIV/AIDS also may adversely affect the cardiovascular system. Used together, cocaine and anti-retroviral therapy can amplify the injury from each.

With this in mind, Emory researchers and their colleagues will use a new $5.7 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health to study the biochemical mechanisms behind cocaine and anti-retroviral drug interactions in mouse models of AIDS. The effect of HIV/AIDS and its therapy on gene expression is an important aim of the study.

It is estimated that more than 34 million Americans have used cocaine and more than 1.5 million are habitual users. Meanwhile, more than a million Americans are infected with HIV or have full-blown AIDS.

For decades, cocaine has been thought to increase the risk for HIV infection, says cardiac pathologist William Lewis, MD, principal investigator of the study and a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in Emory University School of Medicine.

“HIV/AIDS, along with the use of cocaine and NRTIs [nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors] may lead to cardiomyopathy, a prevalent, life-threatening illness,” says Lewis. “Antiretroviral drugs have increased survival rates in those with HIV/AIDS, but unfortunately, these drugs may be cardiotoxic.

“Research from our laboratory and others’ has shown that genetic products of HIV, along with antiretroviral drugs, increases cells’ oxidative stress, which causes damage to the heart cells, eventually leading to heart failure. Cocaine, HIV/AIDS and antiretroviral nucleosides interact at multiple levels.

“We want to understand which switches are being turned on and which switches are being turned off at the level of the gene. This will enable us to formulate a testable hypothesis on what mechanisms lead to cardiomyopathy and heart failure in AIDS and non-AIDS conditions.”

Study researchers include Eva Lee, PhD, professor of systems engineering and director, Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Healthcare, Georgia Institute of Technology; consultant Michael Kuhar, PhD, Candler Professor of Neuropharmacology and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar at Emory School of Medicine and Yerkes National Primate Research Center; and former Emory faculty member and consultant David Harrison, MD, currently at Vanderbilt University.

Writer: Robin Tricoles


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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