InSight: Recent Research Roundup 

By Benjamin Brooks, Jennafer Kwait, Stephen Abbott, and Lynsay Ehui

Whitman-Walker Institute has spent decades conducting research to make sure people living with HIV (PLWH) are able to live healthy, long lives.  Here are findings from three recent studies that examine cutting edge health issues for PLWH:  

1) Dr. Stephen Abbott participated in a study on anogenital warts and anal cancer published in JAMA Dermatology.  Anogenital warts, (warts near the anus and genitals) are fairly common and are caused by the human papilloma virus. HPV also causes several cancers including anal cancer, cervical cancer and throat cancer.  Our study showed an increased rate of anal cancer in PLWH who had a history of anogenital warts.  These results support the importance of screening PLWH for HPV disease to reduce their cancer risk.

2) Whitman-Walker has been participating in a study on the health effects of HIV among gay and bisexual men for nearly two decades.  This study was recently merged with a similar long-term study among women to understand and reduce the impact of conditions that affect people living with HIV.  Topics explored in this combined study include, cardiovascular and lung health, neuropsychological status, aging, cancer, psychosocial factors in health, and health disparities.  As part of this larger project, from May-September 2020, Whitman-Walker Institute research staff Kelsey Cameron, Davin Hami, Hayatt Mohamed, and Marlene Rodriguez conducted interviews with over 160 study participants to study COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and the psychosocial impact of the epidemic.  This study, published in HIV Research and Clinical Practice (2020), found that many participants reported at least one of the symptoms listed in the survey since the COVID-19 outbreak began in the US.  The prevalence of current symptoms was similar in PLWH and those who are HIV-negative.  Overall, 12.9% of participants reported SARS-CoV-2 testing, regardless of HIV status.  Among participants that had taken a test, PLWH were more likely to have a positive test than those who are HIV-negative.  It is important to note that these data were collected early in the epidemic when testing was less accessible.  Additional data from follow-up waves of our COVID-19 survey will help us to better understand the risks from COVID-19 for our patients to ensure that we can protect and advocate for their health.

3) Researchers Lynsay Ehui, Christopher Cannon, Avery Wimpelberg, and David Hardy, were involved with research figuring out ways to measure how much HIV is hidden in the body published in Nature Communications.  One current method being used seems to miss some HIV variations and this research highlights a problem that future studies will need to solve to figure out how to rid HIV from the body.  This work could help eventually to cure patients of HIV.

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