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Dr. Adam Carrico Awarded NIH Grant to Study Risk for COVID amid Meth Use and HIV

Adam Carrico, Ph.D., professor with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how methamphetamine use and HIV could create an increased risk for infection with the novel coronavirus in sexual minority men. The population includes gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

The two-year project will be among the first to examine the potentially synergistic associations of methamphetamine and HIV with rates of infection with the novel coronavirus in sexual minority men.

“This project will advance our understanding of who may be at greater risk of infection with the novel coronavirus, which is critical to inform targeted public health approaches to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Carrico, who is also the newly-named director of the Division of Prevention Science and Community Health in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

Dr. Carrico and his team will enroll 200 sexual minority men to participate in the study – COVID-19 Research for Understanding the role of Substances and HIV (CRUSH). CRUSH is a prospective cohort where participants will provide nasal swabs and blood samples to determine if they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus over six months.

With support from the Miller School’s Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), these specimens will be tested by the laboratories of Savita Pahwa, M.D, and Mario Stevenson, Ph.D. to determine if individuals have been exposed to the novel coronavirus. 

“South Florida is a domestic epicenter for the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics,” said Dr. Carrico “Our work will assist with identifying whether and how methamphetamine users, as well as people living with HIV, are at elevated risk for infection with the novel coronavirus.” 

With the support of Dr. Pahwa’s laboratory, CRUSH will also examine the extent to which co-occurring methamphetamine use and HIV are indirectly linked to higher rates of infection with the novel coronavirus via alterations in gut-immune dysregulation.

“The success of the CFAR is driven by investigators who utilize its resources to enhance research in various aspects of HIV/AIDS," said Dr. Pahwa. "We are delighted that the Miami CFAR will be supporting this important study by conducting laboratory assays to answer the important question of whether meth use increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and if heightened inflammation is an underlying factor."

“Dr. Carrico is to be commended for the CRUSH project, which will lead to an understanding of the impact of meth use and HIV on the acquisition of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This research is especially relevant for us, given the astronomically high rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Miami/Dade, and Florida in general," Dr. Pahwa added.

Dr. Carrico and Dr. Pahwa have previously demonstrated that recent methamphetamine use is associated with greater gut-immune dysregulation, even in those with treated HIV infection.

Their previous studies include:

Dr. Carrico’s team will also examine key behavioral risk factors such as smoking and decreased adherence to social distancing guidelines that could explain higher rates of infection with the novel coronavirus in methamphetamine users.

Results will inform the development of biomedical and behavioral interventions to reduce community transmission of the novel coronavirus and decrease the risk for COVID-19 in high priority populations, such as sexual minority men living with HIV and who use methamphetamine.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on July 29, 2020