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AIDS program wants new name


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POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recognized nationally and internationally for its research, the Hawaii AIDS Clinical Research Program is seeking approval from the University of Hawaii Board of Regents to become an entity called the Hawaii Center for AIDS.

The proposal comes as researchers make strides toward explaining why a certain percentage of HIV-positive patients suffer from dementia.

Program director Dr. Cecilia Shikuma said the formal designation, on the regents' agenda at a meeting tomorrow, “;will help us better establish collaborations with other international entities and help the university do our share in dealing with the (HIV/AIDS) epidemic.”;

Operating within the John A. Burns School of Medicine, the AIDS program has brought in more than $20 million in research grants to Hawaii.

The center is working on a new grant to support investigations of cognitive dysfunction and dementia as a complication in the HIV-positive population.

“;We have a lot of patients treated optimally with HIV medicine that has shut down the virus completely as far as we can tell, and they still have low-grade dementia,”; Shikuma said.

About 20 percent of treated HIV patients have a significant amount of infected white blood cells called monocytes, she said.

“;We've now correlated having a high amount of these HIV-infected monocytes with the risk of getting dementia in our population,”; Shikuma said, adding that the center hopes to do some pilot studies “;to see if getting rid of HIV-infected monocytes will improve dementia in our patient population.”;

Results of a small pilot program done with neurophysicist Pom Sailasuta of the Huntington Medical Research Institute in Pasadena, Calif., will be presented Friday at an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) international symposium in Honolulu, Shikuma said. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, they were able to determine the quantity of certain chemicals in a certain part of the brain to identify an inflammatory marker, she said.

“;It gives us a target we can go after when we try to look for drugs that can attack this. It also means dementia to a certain extent in the HIV population is reversible.”;

The program's clinic at Leahi Hospital provides care to about 400 patients on Oahu and the neighbor islands.