New research has shown there is a direct correlation between cocaine use and HIV vulnerability. The research, which has been published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, scientists have shown that cocaine alters a certain group of immune cells called quiescent CD4 T cells. With these cells compromised, it renders them more susceptible to the virus and in turn the virus can proliferate. This suggests that the progression of the HIV disease is quicker in those who are cocaine users.
Scientists collected blood from healthy human donors and isolated the quiescent CD4 T cells. Once these cells were isolated, the cells were then exposed to cocaine and then subsequently infected them with the HIV virus. Following the infection process, researchers then monitored the progression of the life cycle of the HIV virus. That progression was then compared against that of untreated cells. Results had shown that cocaine rendered the quiescent CD4 T cells more susceptible to HIV infection, resulting in both significant infection and new virus production.
This study, among several similar studies conducted, has been important in the fact that it been thought that the subset of quiescent CD4 T cells were refractory (or immune) to infection. Cocaine, and specifically crack cocaine, was stated in previous research as being linked to the acceleration of CD4 cell counts. As stated in the Huffington Post Science page, previous research done in 2010 has indicated this acceleration has the potential to speed up HIV infection to full-blown AIDS.
“We ultimately hope that our studies will provide a better understanding of how drugs of abuse impact how our body defends itself against disease”, said Dimitrios N. Vatakis, the senior author of this study and a scientist with both UCLA’s Department of Medicine and Department of Hematology-Oncology as well as the UCLA AIDS Institute. “Such discovery can significantly improve the quality of life of drug users”.
John Wherry, who is the deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, expressed that the current study regarding cocaine use and HIV vulnerability adds more links between drug use and the onset of disease. “The co-epidemics of illicit drug use and infectious disease are well documented, though typically this connection is thought of occur through lifestyle choices and increased exposure. Wherry goes on to state that drugs such as cocaine may be helping to fuel infections by altering the immune systems in this high-risk population. This point is not one, in Wherry’s estimation, that often comes to mind.
This study are seen as an important advance in documenting how the use of cocaine may increase a person’s vulnerability to the HIV virus. This study also highlights the need for improved education for both HIV prevention and drug abstinence.