Newswise — San Antonio, Texas (February 26, 2020) – More than $3.7 million was awarded to Mahesh Mohan, DVM, MS, Ph.D., Professor at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, and Chioma M. Okeoma, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Stony Brook University, to explore the link between cannabinoids (THC) and chronic intestinal inflammation in patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Drs. Mohan and Okeoma are co-principal investigators on the competitive five-year study, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health Drug Abuse and Addiction Research Programs.

“We are essentially breaking down our research to the molecular level to study the mechanisms associated with chronic inflammation, which drives HIV disease progression,” Dr. Mohan said. “Additionally, we aim to close the gap of understanding the role of THC and its therapeutic anti-inflammatory effects on a variety of diseases. These studies will generate new insights into the mechanisms underlying the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids.”

Using the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) rhesus macaque animal model, scientists will evaluate how THC changes the composition and function of cell released exosomes that are implicated during infection. Exosomes, which are extracellular vesicles that carry information and communicate between cells, could prove an effective target for future treatments of HIV-related inflammation.

As HIV attacks the body, the immune system over works itself and HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART) see prolonged inflammation due to the heightened activation of their immune systems. This leads to additional health issues such as cardiovascular and neurological disease, gastrointestinal and kidney disease, diabetes mellitus and hyperlipidemia, which are leading causes of non-AIDS related deaths.

Combination antiretroviral therapy is necessary to keep the virus from causing full-blown AIDS; however, between 15-40% of HIV/AIDS patients use cannabis to treat disease symptoms and combat side effects of this therapy.
“Our research is novel and may lead to modified strategies to decrease inflammation and organ dysfunction,” he explains. “Our findings may also impact therapy relating to other autoimmune chronic inflammatory diseases associated with immune cell defects.”

This research is funded by the National Institute On Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Awards Number R01DA050169. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

The Southwest National Primate Research Center grant P51 OD011133 is from the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, National Institutes of Health and will provide some support in this study.

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Texas Biomed is one of the world's leading independent biomedical research institutions dedicated to advancing health worldwide through innovative biomedical research. The Institute is home to the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) and provides broad services in primate research. SNPRC contributes to a national network of National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) with specialized technologies, capabilities and primate resources, many of which are unique to the SNPRC. The Center also serves investigators around the globe with research and technical procedures for collaborative projects. For more information on Texas Biomed, go to www.TxBiomed.org or for more information on SNPRC, visit www.SNPRC.org.

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R01DA050169; P51OD011133