UNMC Grants - NIH award to power study of meth/HIV connection

by Lisa Spellman, UNMC public relations | November 19, 2010

picture disc.A sad consequence of methamphetamine abuse is the increased risk of HIV infection.

Researchers at the UNMC are investigating the damage to the human body from the combined effects of meth use, HIV and the antiretroviral drugs used to treat the disease.

With a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse -- a division of the National Institutes of Health -- the researchers will use a unique systems biology approach to analyze how these three elements interact and react with each other and the human immune system.

picture disc.
From left: Melinda Wojtkiewicz, researcher, Pawel Ciborowski, Ph.D., director of the Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Core Facility at UNMC, and Stacy Wolfe, a research technologist. Behind them is the Thermo Electron's LTQ Orbitrap XL ETD mass spectrometer used for analysis of peptides with post-translational modifications, protein quantification and identification. To the right is the Thermo Electron LCQ Deca XP for protein identification.
Pawel Ciborowski, Ph.D., director of the mass spectrometry and proteomics core facility at UNMC, and Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for research in the UNMC College of Medicine, are co-investigators on the grant.

"The question is how does exposure to the HIV virus, antiretroviral drugs, methamphetamine or any combination of the three together, affect immune cells," Dr. Ciborowski said.

They hope to find answers by looking for new and unexpected relationships in gene expression and in the nuclear protein of the macrophage, an immune cell, that represent new therapeutic targets for a number of diseases, he said.

Did you know?

According to federal estimates:

  • More than 12 million Americans have tried methamphetamine;
  • 1.5 million are regular users;
  • More than one million people live with HIV in the United States; and
  • One in five of those people are unaware of their infection.

But making sense of these huge and interrelated data sets is a problem. To address this, they will utilize multiple computational and mathematical models through collaboration with Hesham Ali, Ph.D., and Kiran Bastola, Ph.D., in the College of Information Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), and Jim Rodgers, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics at UNO.

"We hypothesize that the systems biology approach will provide unique information that will lead to identification of new paradigms on how the human macrophage is regulated in the complex environment of HIV infection, meth and antiretroviral drug therapy," Dr. Ciborowski said.

"This type of research project shows that the support for infrastructure at UNMC, such as the mass spectrometry and proteomics core facility, and bringing interdisciplinary investigators together to solve problems, lets us successfully compete on the national stage for large grants, enabling our cutting-edge biomedical research," Dr. Fox said.

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