Boston college biologist awarded NIH grant to probe link between HIV and peripheral neuropathy

February 5th, 2013
Boston College biologist Tricia Burdo has been awarded a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the role of the body's immune response in a debilitating form of nerve damage suffered by people living with HIV.

Among HIV patients, as many as 69.4 percent are afflicted with peripheral neuropathy of the arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers and toes. The most common neurological disorder associated with people living with HIV, it is known as "dying back", a painful condition where sensory nerves die and then retreat, causing a loss of sensitivity and function.

Burdo, an associate research professor in the lab of Professor of Biology Ken Williams, said the group has been exploring the connection between peripheral neuropathy and inflammation in the dorsal root ganglia located outside of the spine. The focal point is macrophage activation, the disruptive activity of cells associated with the body's immunological response to infection.

The presence and behavior of those cells could help to determine what triggers peripheral neuropathy in HIV patients, Burdo said.

"We're studying what's going on in dorsal root ganglia in terms of inflammation by macrophage activation and correlating that to this nerve loss," said Burdo.

Central to the study, funded by the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), is the molecule CD163, identified by Burdo and Williams as a biological marker for the activation of macrophages and monocytes in patients with HIV.

Burdo said the team hopes to develop a clearer understanding of the progression of peripheral neuropathy, how to pinpoint early and advanced stages of neuropathy with biomarkers, and potential drug therapies that could stop or slow the disease.

Provided by Boston College

This Phys.org Science News Wire page contains a press release issued by an organization mentioned above and is provided to you “as is” with little or no review from Phys.Org staff.

More news stories

Nigeria on red alert after first Ebola death

Nigeria was on alert against the possible spread of Ebola on Saturday, a day after the first confirmed death from the virus in Lagos, Africa's biggest city and the country's financial capital.

Physicists discuss quantum pigeonhole principle

The pigeonhole principle: "If you put three pigeons in two pigeonholes at least two of the pigeons end up in the same hole." So where's the argument? Physicists say there is an important argument. While the ...

Giant anteaters kill two hunters in Brazil

Giant anteaters in Brazil have killed two hunters in separate incidents, raising concerns about the animals' loss of habitat and the growing risk of dangerous encounters with people, researchers said.

US plans widespread seismic testing of sea floor

(AP)—The U.S. government is planning to use sound blasting to conduct research on the ocean floor along most of the East Coast, using technology similar to that which led to a court battle by environmentalists in New Jersey.

NASA Mars spacecraft prepare for close comet flyby

NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19.