Researchers at the University of Miami are looking for local participants as they lead a national study of people as they age with HIV. Nearly half of all Americans living with diagnosed HIV were aged 50 and older. This study looks at why people with HIV are at an increased risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.
Dr. Maria Alcaide, Dr. Margaret Fischl, and Dr. Deborah Jones Weiss are the study’s principal researchers.
“We are looking to understand the effect of HIV as people age,” said Alcaide, the director of UM's infectious disease research unit. “We are looking in terms of not only the HIV infection and infections that may be related to HIV, but also focusing on conditions that affect people as they age such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, metabolic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and other comorbidities.”
The current study is more than seven thousand men and women. It’s been ongoing for decades. “The results of these studies have already contributed significantly to a lot of the guidelines that have been published, and are used by doctors in terms of following people with HIV,” Alcaide said.
According to AmFar, an estimated 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. In 2017, Southern states accounted for more than half of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., despite making up just 38% of the overall U.S. population. Miami is significant because seven years ago, it became a study site for UM researchers. Before that, there was no adequate representation in the South among people who were HIV positive and women.
“It is critical that Miami is a new site is because we will understand the epidemic in the South, which is where most of the new cases are especially in South Florida,” Alcaide said. “We have been asked to increase our recruitment so we can have a good representation of who are the new infections are. We are focusing on the kind of people who are aging and older people and who are those new infections and how these people who are newly diagnosed are affected in all of those in, you know, in all those areas.”
“One of the things that we're looking at, in the South and the Southeast the differences in outcomes between different groups of people,” said researcher Deborah Jones Weiss who’s treated people with HIV since 1985. “Seeing if we can tease out some of the problems that are keeping some people from not doing as well as others in terms of health and not just physical health, but mental health. What we're doing by collecting the information is we're making it possible for scientists to go through that information and come forward with guidelines and new ideas for how to improve overall quality of life and health outcomes for everyone.”
The study focuses on why people with HIV are at a higher risk for other diseases. “There is a higher rate of cancers, a higher rate of cardiovascular disease and things that are associated with that,” Jones Weiss said. “It's not that the HIV is causing these disorders that we use to associate with HIV, like uh, Kaposi sarcoma. It's that HIV is stimulating inflammation, which is making the body kind of wear out.”
Researchers are also examining the non-clinical issues experienced by people aging with HIV. “A big component of this study that looks what we would call psychosocial issues,” said Jones Weiss. “We’re looking at people who are living with the virus, not just people who've been living with it for a long time, but people who are newly infected as well. We have plenty of data that support that people who are living with HIV do experience higher levels of depression, do experience, for example, stigma and discrimination, not only in the Southeast, all around the world. These combine to impact in part, for example, adherence to medication, adherence to treatment. So, these psychosocial factors are really important.”
Anyone interested in joining the study should contact Juan Casuso at the University of Miami. He can be reached at 305-243-3838.