Health

Life span of HIV patients focus of UCSF symposium

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scientists are exploring a medical mystery -- why HIV patients are aging prematurely or dying earlier from non-HIV ailments. Leading researchers were in San Francisco Tuesday to discuss the possible causes. Is it the treatment or the disease?

It is ironic that those who survived AIDS in the 1980s and early 90s are now dealing with another set of problems.

Matt Sharp is with Project Inform, an advocacy group for people living with the disease.

"I see heart disease, I see people with neurocognitive disorders and some inability to think clearly," Sharp said.

And this is happening earlier than expected.

Tuesday, some of the world's leading researchers came to UCSF's Center for AIDS Research at the Gladstone Institute with an array of possibilities.

Dr. Paul Volberding was one of the first physicians to treat AIDS patients.

"What we are learning with this is that HIV, even with treatment, can set up a chronic inflammation that can, we think, cause a lot of the damage that we are seeing in people with HIV infections," he said.

Inflammation is the body's first line of defense against injuries and infection. But an out of control inflammatory response can also destroy healthy tissue, which is what may be happening to people with HIV.

We know this, for years doctors have seen the virus causing damage to the brain in a way that may lead to dementia.

Two years ago, Victor Valcour began research on aging among the HIV population and the impact on brain function; 100 patients are enrolled in his study.

"And we are worried about how brain function will be; nearly 50 percent of people living with HIV have some kind of symptoms of cognitive problems," Valcour said.

Some also believe the earlier drugs used to treat HIV may have helped accelerate this aging process as well.

"Some people are getting frustrated because they talk to their doctors about their situation and sometimes their doctors will say, 'Oh you are just getting old like everybody else,'" Sharp said.

So now the question is can anything reverse premature aging and what can be done early on to prevent some of the damage later in life?

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UCSF, HIV, medical research, health, lyanne melendez
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