A diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be; we’ve come a long way. However, there is a new study that was published in PLOS One that shows that although HIV positive individuals are typically living longer, they may be aging more quickly than expected. The study shows that those with HIV are at a greater risk of age-related diseases including kidney disease, frailty, osteoporosis, neurocognitive disease and some cancers.
Researchers are not pointing to the medications used to treat HIV as being the reason for faster aging; they think it’s HIV itself and that it speeds the process by 14 years. Scientists from the Multi-Center AIDS Cohort Study and the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research looked at whether HIV induced epigenetic changes that are age-related, meaning those changes to the DNA that do not change the genetic code, lead to changes in expression of genes. These types of transitions are triggered by the aging process itself or environmental factors.
One of the study’s senior authors, Beth Jamieson, professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, director of the UCLA Flow Cytometry Core said, “While we were surprised by the number of epigenetic changes that were significantly associated with both aging and HIV-infection, we were most surprised that the data suggests HIV-infection can accelerate aging-related epigenetic changes by 13.7 to 14.7 years.” There is published data and anecdotal evidence that lines up with this number. It suggests that treated HIV positive adults may develop age-related diseases, about a decade sooner than those who are uninfected.
The study looked at 96 samples of white blood cells from both young and old HIV patients before they began Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). DNA was then extracted and looked at for changes. When studied, there was a lot of overlap when the pattern of changes was compared to the pattern connected with aging. After extrapolating the biological ages of the HIV positive patients, researchers found that the patients were 14 years older than their actual age on both a cellular and physiological level.
Researchers say that this data suggests that HIV speeds up some aspects of the aging process, and there are common mechanisms found in both HIV-related aging and general aging. They consider the results of the study to be an important start in the attempt to find therapeutic approaches to mitigate the effects of HIV and aging.