Researchers at the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research published reports Thursday concluding that intravenous cocaine usage may harm the immune system’s ability to ward off HIV.
The study used BLT mice, or mice engineered to have human-like immune systems with fragments of human thymus cells, liver cells and stem cells. Dimitrios Vatakis, an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, led a research team that injected 19 BLT mice with the stimulant drug cocaine and 19 mice with saline solution as a control. After infecting half of each group with HIV-1, the team waited two weeks before analyzing viral levels and characterizing immune cells in the bloodstream, according to the study published in the Scientific Reports.
Researchers found that the cocaine-HIV group exhibited higher amounts of HIV in the blood than the saline-HIV group. They also discovered that nine of the saline-HIV mice, in contrast to three mice in the cocaine-HIV group, possessed undetectable amounts of HIV in their bodies.
Vatakis said he believes cocaine decreases the potency of CD8 T cells, which normally destroy infected cells in healthy humans. According to the study’s results, CD8 T cells in the cocaine-injected group did not function at their maximum potential.
Vatakis added that he plans to develop an experimental model of chronic cocaine use to better understand the drug’s effects on longtime users. In the future, the team aims to study how cocaine affects the performance of HIV-preventing drugs. Treatments that use such drugs, called pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, attempt to prevent permanent infection before or after exposure to the virus.
“The future plans primarily look into developing a chronic model that’s more clinically relevant,” Vatakis said. “Once we establish that model, we can address how pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis are affected by substance abuse.”
Compiled by Allison Ong, Bruin contributor.