Research at the MGH is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units, and is conducted with the support and guidance of the MGH Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events.

Adhering to treatment during adolescence keeps HIV-positive youth on healthier track

As youth who were born with HIV – or who acquired it shortly after birth – continue to live longer lives, researchers want to investigate how these individuals have fared in managing their condition in order to improve long-term treatment and care.

A recent MGH study of 1,400 individuals age 7-30 years old who were born with HIV found that teens and young adults are more likely to have a difficult time managing their condition than they did as younger children. Those who had good HIV control generally experienced good overall health outcomes, while those who had poor HIV control – meaning higher levels of HIV virus and lower levels of CD4 immune cells – had more physical and mental health conditions, a higher incidence of health complications, and a greater risk of death.

“We need to act to strengthen services for youth,” says Anne Neilan, MD, MPH, of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center, who led the study. “That might include youth-friendly services that consider the substantial stigma many of these patients face, novel approaches to antiretroviral therapy delivery and improving support for youth transitioning from pediatric to adult health care providers.”

Andrea Ciaranello, MD, MPH, of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Medical Practice Evaluation Center, was senior author of the study.

Missing genes point to new drug targets

The human genome project provided a parts list of genes, about 18,000 in number.  Now, researchers are studying what it means to be missing a part. 

In an analysis of the genomes of 10,000 research participants, Sekar Kathiresan, MD, director of the Center for Genomic Medicine, and his research team at the MGH and the Broad Institute found 1,300 genes that were inactivated in at least one participant. For example, several individuals were missing a working copy of the APOC3 gene, and as a result these individuals had lower blood levels of fats and were protected from heart attack. Such examples help us understand the function of a gene in humans and also point to new drug targets. 

This study sets the stage for an ambitious “Human Knockout Project,” a systematic effort to understand gene function by identifying and characterizing humans who naturally lack a gene.

Read more articles from the 05/26/17 Hotline issue.