© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip: news@wesa.fm

Pitt Scientist Gets $3 Million To Research HIV Pain

Efrem Lukatsky
A woman has an HIV/AIDS blood test in a mobile laboratory in Kev, Ukraine, on World AIDS Day Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.

A University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researcher has received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a pilot program to help HIV patients manage their chronic pain.

Modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, the program is peer-led. In this case, by someone with HIV who successfully manages their pain.

“Both chronic pain and HIV can be very socially isolating,” said Jessica Merlin, a physician and behavioral scientist who studies pain management. “To be…in a group where one can build community, people felt like that would be really, really helpful.”

Depression and addiction are also common among this population.

It’s not entirely known why, but research suggests these patients are more pain-sensitive compared to the general population. Merlin said one hypothesis is its caused by inflammation, a result of uncontrolled viral replication.

“It can also be caused by some of the old HIV drugs that really are not used anymore very much but have lifetime side effects of peripheral neuropathy,” she said.

Peripheral neuropathy is tingling and numbness in the hands or feet, though patients can hurt through their entire bodies.

Recruitment for the pilot begins in 2019. The grant provides funding for five years.

WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.