News Releases

Nurse Researcher Receives $1.8 Million Grant to Study Chronic Pain Induced by HIV/AIDS Antiretroviral Therapy

June 26, 2007

Baltimore, Md.—Susan G. Dorsey, PhD, RN, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, has received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research for her study, BDNF Signal Strength Modulates NRTI-Induced Allodynia in the Mouse. The purpose of the study is to try to understand how nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, one component of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) regimens for patients with HIV, cause painful peripheral neuropathy, so that new therapeutic targets for treatment can be identified.

“The pain, thought to be caused by damaged peripheral nerves, is spontaneous in nature and manifests as an excruciating burning, lancing, or throbbing sensation,” says Dorsey. “Treatments that are currently available do not always provide adequate pain relief, due in part to our incomplete understanding about the mechanisms that promote the development and persistence of this type of chronic pain.”

Dorsey says that even if HAART therapy is discontinued, the pain can persist for months or years after completing therapy. “We believe that significantly increasing the expression of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) – a member of the family of growth factors termed “neurotrophins” – may provide significant pain relief, and thus be a potential new therapeutic target for pain treatment,” she says. “Since we know that exercise can increase BDNF production in both animals and humans, we will examine whether exercise helps to improve pain, and if so, the dose and intensity needed for pain relief.”

“I had noticed, in my own research, how well humans with HIV drug-induced painful peripheral neuropathy performed after three to four months of exercise training,” says Barbara A. Smith, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean of research at the School of Nursing and a study co-investigator. “What is so important about this grant is that once we identify the mechanism, we can rapidly translate the findings into humans, since that is where we identified the potential therapeutic benefit of exercise in the first place.”

All of these studies will be conducted in a mouse model of HIV drug-induced painful peripheral neuropathy developed in the School of Nursing's own bench research laboratories.