Doctors take on new HIV study

The doctors received a $3.25 million grant for their research.

Dr. Yuri Persidsky uses a specialized microscope in his lab to look at living tissue as it grows. JACOB MCGLEW FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Two researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine have joined forces and begun a study on the effects of tobacco smoke and opiate usage on HIV patients.

Doctors Yuri Persidsky and Thomas Rogers were awarded a $3.25 million grant last month from the National Institutes of Health to fund their research. Persidsky is the chair of TUH’s pathology and laboratory medicine department, and Rogers is the director of the Center for Inflammation, Translational and Clinical Lung Research in the medical school.

“The real novelty in this project is that we’re trying to model the human situation,”  Rogers said. “A high percentage of individuals infected with HIV are cigarette smokers, and there is also a fairly high frequency of intravenous opiate drug abuse.”

The doctors anticipate that tobacco smoke, opiates and HIV could elevate or intensify the effects of the disease, especially in the brain, Rogers said. The hypothesis they’re testing is that when the three components are all together, the virus will affect patients more intensely.

Persidsky said he and his colleagues plan to put together sophisticated chambers which allow them to expose mice to cigarette smoke. The space should be mostly ready in a week or two.

The mice have humanlike immune systems that are infected with the real human immunodeficiency virus, Persidsky said.

A hypothetical patient who has been smoking or abusing opiates likely has been doing so for years, so the tests must reflect that. “What we’re trying to do is set up a set of experiments that will mimic that as closely as we can,” Rogers said. “We can’t conduct these experiments for years on animals, but we can conduct these experiments for several weeks.”

“We hope to have some meaningful data collected by early next year,” Rogers added.

The researchers have both medical students and postdoctoral fellows who will be helping to conduct the study.

Up to this point, Rogers and Persidsky said only some research has addressed issues surrounding the effects of opiates on HIV patients, but there is little known about the effects of tobacco smoke on HIV.

“I don’t think anyone right now is really looking into that,” Persidsky said.

Persidsky and Rogers call this the first time there will be an opportunity to combine all these aspects in an experimental situation and hope that they can address many clinically significant questions that have yet to be answered.

“We have to do a lot of work,” Rogers added. “The upside is that we have an opportunity to learn a lot that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”

Noah Tanen can be reached at

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