Scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
have launched a new, federally funded collaborative
research unit to develop novel treatments for HIV-related
memory and other cognitive disorders.
The research initiative at Hopkins is one of seven
sites funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to
study cognitive disorders linked to HIV/AIDS or to conduct
behavioral approaches to reduce HIV transmission.
While the incidence of HIV-related dementia has
dropped by an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent in the
United States thanks, in large part, to effective antiviral
drug cocktails, evidence is mounting that these drugs may
fail to completely protect HIV-positive people from memory
and learning problems. In fact, studies from the Johns
Hopkins HIV neuroscience group have shown that about 30
percent of people on the antiviral drug cocktails, known as
HAART, have measurable cognitive dysfunction.
"The good news is that we have drugs that keep people
with HIV and AIDS physically healthy for a much longer time
than was possible just a decade ago," said Justin C.
McArthur, a professor of
epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
"The bad news is that the prevalence of cognitive problems
seems to be on the rise as these individuals survive
longer. We need to know why, and what we can do better."
McArthur and his research team plan on using the
NIMH's $1.25 million first-year grant to investigate why
there are still no effective treatments specifically
targeted at HIV dementia.
As it has been clearly demonstrated that "oxidative
stress" — the accumulation of toxic forms of oxygen
— plays a major role in many neurological disorders,
including aging, stroke and dementia, oxidative stress is
the major focus of Hopkins' research for new drugs.
The Hopkins center also will attempt to design and
promote the wider use of more sensitive screening
techniques for HIV dementia and to develop novel surrogate
markers of disease activity and progression. It will also
stimulate new research by funding pilot grants designed to
attract new researchers into the field. New techniques for
the improved postgraduate education of medical providers in
the neurological manifestations of HIV/AIDS will also be
organized through the center.
McArthur will co-direct the center with investigators
Joseph Steiner and Avindra Nath. Other members of the
research team will be Ned Sacktor, Min Li, Norman Haughey,
Scott Zeger, Richard Moore, John Bartlett, Robert Cotter,
Robert Cole, Wenxue Li and Chris Zink. The center will have
an advisory council that will include several other
prominent figures from the Johns Hopkins School of
Medicine, including Richard Johnson, former chair of the
Department of Neurology; Sol Snyder, former chair of the
Department of Neuroscience; Jeffrey Rothstein, a professor
of neurology; and Chi Dang, vice dean for research.