JOHNSON CITY (March 24, 2016) – Dr. Jonathan Moorman, a professor of medicine at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine and section chief for infectious diseases at the Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, recently was awarded a grant to investigate strategies to better understand how chronic inflammation affects aging in HIV patients.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART), sometimes referred to as the HIV “cocktail,” is the combination of several drugs that slow the rate that HIV can copy itself and spread through the body. While the treatment lowers the amount of the virus in the body, or viral load, it does not eliminate it entirely so inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to the virus persists and becomes chronic.
“This is often best expressed in specific cells in the immune system called T-cells. These cells are part of the immune response, but in patients undergoing ART, these T-cells are not healthy,” said Moorman, co-director of ETSU’s Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease and Immunity. “They often appear aged and with limited function, much like what is seen in much older patients.”
In a sense, chronic inflammation speeds aspects of aging in the body and it can lead to a number of other diseases, including heart disease, stroke and cancer, Moorman explained.
Through a grant from the National Institute for Aging, Moorman will focus on a specific microRNA molecule within the body that effects the T-cells. Moorman believes that by limiting the disruption to this microRNA molecule, he can keep T-cells healthier and, in turn, keep patients on ART healthier over the long-term.
While Moorman’s research is geared toward HIV patients, he said it has the potential to improve health of any patient suffering from diseases characterized by chronic inflammation, including hepatitis, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and more.
He hopes the research will eventually lead to treatments that prevent chronic inflammation and its associated health problems in many patients.