In the US alone, there are over 2 million people infected with HIV-type 1. The past three decades have shown a lot of progress in managing HIV. Prevention and treatment have been successful in a sense but still, there is no cure. Only 1 in 3 patients with HIV in the US have it under control and this is through antiretroviral therapy (ART). It would be hard to believe that cocaine could have any connection to helping Science understand HIV. There is a connection between cocaine abuse and HIV that may potentially hold the secret to understanding how the body copes with the infection. Cocaine has been shown to regulate HIV, causing it to deteriorate neurons in the brain at a faster pace. While none of that is great news, there may be a silver lining. A team of scientists have recently been awarded $2.3 million to look deeper into cocaine and how it manipulates the HIV strain.
The Central Nervous System
We already know that there’s a strong connection between illicit drugs and HIV. Many of the people who contract HIV will have done so through sharing needles for example. Cocaine is one of the most commonly used substances. It causes a higher potential to contract HIV and also progresses the disease more rapidly. The central nervous system is where both cocaine and anti-HIV drugs target the body. Cocaine accelerates neuron issues in the brain for HIV patients. Studies have found that cocaine essentially turns HIV genes into super genes. They replicate more quickly by activating pathways.
Cocaine and Its Effects on Cells
HIV infection in drug addicts make up for a third of the new cases of HIV. Cocaine primes the cells and makes HIV infection more possible. When HIV is contracted, it makes its way into the ‘pool’ that sits in your central nervous system. It infects different kinds of brain cells and deteriorates neurons. This is why the immune and nervous system begin to deteriorate. This whole deterioration process is accelerated with the use of cocaine. Cocaine promotes HIV in the replication process. It enhances the HIV gene expression also. For those who adhere to HAART which is the treatment for HIV, they will experience deterioration when taking cocaine. This direct connection of cocaine and its effects on HIV are demonstrating just how much of a burden drug addiction is on the US. For those with HIV who are also using cocaine, they put significant health and financial burden on the rest of the country.
The Current Generation and Substance Abuse
The public health relevance as per NIH finds that the younger generation didn’t experience the toll of aids in the past. Many of the patients with HIV today are heavily involved in abusive drugs. The problem is that it leads to faster deterioration in the nervous system. People are in jeopardy of dying much faster when they abuse substances. The original study conducted by George Washington University is what propelled the medical industry to pursue how substances like cocaine can help. By also understanding how they speed up the process, it gives scientists an indication of how they might reverse the process. The hopes of the study is that they can discover new ways of regulating how HIV is replicated. First, they must understand the exact pathways cocaine is affecting.
Why The Cocaine and HIV Connection is Relevant
Perhaps the reason the study of cocaine and HIV received so much funding is due to the problems HIV is causing on such a grand scale. When people find out they’ve acquired the strain of HIV, it usually implies a sense of ‘rock bottom.’ The majority of people don’t know what their infection status is and if they do, they aren’t taking steps to control it. This is a national public health crisis which is often worsened by substance abuse. Abusing substances cause people to care less what they do to themselves and to others. HIV and substance abuse disorder can often cause depression which leads to a co-occurring disorder. SUD is a factor during every stage of HIV and AIDS. This includes transmission, diagnosis, pathogenesis, and treatment. Studies have shown that substance abuse accelerates the progression of the disease and increases the death toll for those with the infection.
The $2.3 Million Cocaine and HIV Connection Study
Recent studies indicated that cocaine can influence replication and transcription of HIV. This ground breaking recognition of cocaine and its effects on HIV is so important that it has been awarded over $2 million. The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences was given the money to look deeper into what this could mean. The molecular mechanisms of cocaine effects will be the focal point. Mudit Tyagi, PhD, will be leading the research team for the study between cocaine and its effects on HIV. They will primarily be figuring out the character of signaling pathways. Why cocaine is able to activate areas of the body that other drugs have not been able to tap into. Basically anti-HIV drugs can prevent HIV from replicating but can’t get rid of HIV in its entirety. This is because of the blood barrier, which prevents the free-flow of anti-HIV drugs into the brain. Currently, HIV replication can occur in the brain and there’s no drug or method to stop it.
Cocaine Effectively Targets the Brain
Cocaine can do what anti-HIV drugs can’t do which is to reach the brain at a consistent level. Cocaine is able to more effectively target the brain. This enhances transcription and replication of HIV using certain mechanisms, Tyagi has found. The goal of course is not to speed up HIV in the brain but to understand the manipulation of cocaine on the brain and HIV. By identifying and characterizing how cocaine stimulates the pathways to the brain, there is the potential of a medical breakthrough and a promise of better treatment in the future.
Determining How Cocaine Affects the Spread of HIV
To know if someone has been using cocaine, you would need to assess cocaine metabolite levels in blood. To determine how much cocaine can affect the spread of HIV, they will need to study primary cell and cell lines in HIV patients not using the drug. Tyagi explains that this research can impact HIV patients who use cocaine and also people addicted to cocaine who are not infected. He talks about how cocaine use can increase risk of getting STD’s. This is due to the lack of conscious thought, leading to unprotected sexual activity in a drug-addicted population. The study is going to be called, “Characterization of Cocaine Induced Signaling Pathways that Enhances HIV Transcription,” and will run for a five year period.
The Ultimate Goal of the Research
The goal within the 5 year period is to get a larger view of what effects cocaine has on the body. They want to know the effect of initiation and elongation through the genes. Their focus will be on HIV gene expression and functioning of the brain. There is a lot of work to be done in order to really understand what cocaine is doing in the body to manipulate HIV. Understanding the interactions between the virus and drugs like cocaine can help science to understand how HIV is being affected. The benefit of this knowledge is that they may be able to reveal new drug targets. Their information can spread knowledge in many industries. They may be able to help pharmaceutical companies create better drugs for both addiction intervention and maybe even find a cure for HIV.