NIA Pegs UND Researchers To Pursue Possible HIV–Alzheimer’s Connection

The National Institute on Aging seeks to spur the research of two scientists at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Xuesong Chen, Ph.D., and Jonathan D. Geiger, Ph.D., colleagues in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics, have piqued the interest of NIA officials, who awarded the duo a $350,000, R21 grant.

The NIA, one of the 27 institutes that compose the National Institutes of Health, supports research on the nature of aging and supports the health and well-being of older adults. One of the means at the NIA’s disposal to meet its ends are R21 grants it provides to investigators to pursue what the NIA deems “exploratory and developmental research projects” that carry considerable risk of failure but may also lead to breakthroughs into the causes of diseases and their treatment.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) is the most common type of the virus discovered in 1984 that causes the majority of HIV infections worldwide. HIV destroys specialized blood cells that help the body fend off diseases. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS is the end stage of the HIV infection to which people with HIV progressed to rapidly before the discovery and development in the 1990s of powerful combinations of medications that were found to slow the progress of the disease.

“The good news is that we have very effective combined antiretroviral therapeutic drugs, and people living with HIV-1/AIDS are living much longer,” Geiger said.

He is a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics; and interim chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“The bad news is that these drugs may be causing people living with HIV-1/AIDS to age faster, which leads to a very high prevalence rate among these individuals of HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), and they appear to have an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease-like pathology,” he said.

Chen and Geiger will explore what they believe are the common underlying mechanisms in the pathogenesis of HAND and Alzheimer’s disease, which they anticipate may provide novel insights into possible treatments for this neurological disorder.

Denis MacLeod
assistant director, Office of Alumni and Community Relations
UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences
(701) 777-2733