NIH grant funds HIV research

UC team studying how alcohol, fentanyl affect medications

The United States has set a goal of reducing the number of new HIV infections by 75% by 2025 and by at least 90% by 2030, mirroring the United Nations’ initiative to end the AIDS epidemic as a global health threat by 2030.

Part of reaching these goals is ensuring the safety and efficacy of HIV medications in different situations, and researchers at the University of Cincinnati have recently been awarded a $3.5 million National Institutes of Health grant that will examine how current medications are affected by alcohol use alone or in combination with fentanyl.

Study background

Bingfang Yan, PhD, DVM, contact principal investigator of the research, said there is no clear data showing how alcohol with or without fentanyl affects HIV medications, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication taken to reduce the chance of contracting HIV. 

“It is well accepted that unhealthy alcohol use has been associated with poor adherence of PrEP, skipping medication,” said Yan, professor and associate dean for research and innovation at UC’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy. “However, it is not clear whether and how alcohol with or without fentanyl directly affects the efficacy and safety of HIV medicines.”   

A research team from differing backgrounds was formed to learn more, including co-principal investigators Jason Blackard, PhD, professor of internal medicine at UC’s College of Medicine, and Jennifer Brown, PhD, associate professor at Purdue University and a former faculty member in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Yan brings research experience in medication metabolism, Blackard’s lab studies virus interactions, and Brown has a research focus on alcohol and substance use.    

“This is a collaborative effort and represents an excellent example of bringing complementary expertise together to resolve important health issues,” said Yan.  

A shelf of alcohol bottles at a bar

The researchers will study how alcohol, alone and in combination with fentanyl, affects the safety and efficacy of HIV medications. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Study details

Yan said this project will analyze cell cultures as well as blood, hair, urine and white blood cell samples from patients who enroll in the study.   

The first aim of the study is to determine metabolite signatures and pharmacological biomarkers of PrEP in HIV-negative populations using alcohol with or without fentanyl versus those who do not. 

“Altered metabolite signatures and pharmacological biomarkers will suggest that alcohol consumption alone or in combination with fentanyl would make PrEP less effective,” Yan said.

The second aim is similar, comparing the efficacy and safety as well as adherence of HIV therapy in HIV-positive populations who use alcohol alone or in combination with fentanyl versus those who do not.  

“Aim 1 focuses on prevention and Aim 2 on therapy,” Yan said. “It’s very comprehensive, so information gained will be really meaningful.”   

Featured image at top of Bingfang Yan in the CARE/Crawley building on UC's medical campus.  Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Marketing + Brand.

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