Researchers Receive $2.9 Million NIH Grant to Study Cardiovascular Disease in Drug Abusers wit

Mahendra Kumar, Ph.D., and Deborah Jones Weiss, Ph.D., M.Ed., in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, have received a $2.9 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study cardiovascular disease in HIV-positive cocaine users.

The grant, “Predictive Biomarkers of CVD risk in Diverse HIV-1+ Cocaine Abusers,” aims to establish the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in cocaine abusers with HIV-1 and related biomarkers.

“South Florida is the epicenter of both HIV-1 infection and cocaine abuse,” said Kumar, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and Chief of the Psychoneuroendocrinology Laboratory. “Although antiretroviral treatment has made HIV-1 infection a chronic disease, cardiovascular disease and other co-morbidities have become important complications in this infection.”

Some reports, Kumar says, show that cardiovascular disease risk increases up to 60 percent in HIV-1 infected people, but neither the effects nor the mechanisms involved are understood.

To test various biomarkers, Kumar and Weiss will recruit African American, Caucasian and Hispanic men and women who are HIV-1 infected cocaine abusers, HIV-1 infected non-abusers, non-HIV infected cocaine abusers, and uninfected, non-abusers. Those having 1mm or more carotid artery intima-media thickness will undergo intervention based on recommendations to decrease risks as described in the Framingham Study, a sex-specific algorithm used to estimate the 10-year cardiovascular risk of an individual, for up to two years and then will be reassessed.

“This grant will help us gain a better understanding of the influence of cocaine on the impact of HIV infection on developing risk of cardiovascular disease and on strategies to better identify biomarkers for the risk of cardiovascular disease among those living with HIV,” said Weiss, research professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-chair of mentoring for the development core at the Center for AIDS Research.

The team hypothesizes that Framingham-based intervention will be insufficient since various inflammatory markers, insulin resistance and other biomarkers have to be improved to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

“Our findings may result in developing a better approach of intervention in this population to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular risk,” Kumar said.

This award is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under grant number R01DA034589.

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