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BC Prof Awarded NIH Grant

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02

Tricia Burdo, research associate professor and biologist at Boston College, was recently awarded a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The Research Project Grant, the original and most historically known grant given by the NIH, is used to supplement and support health-related research that investigates cures and causes of diseases, as well as human development and the environment as they pertain to physical wellbeing. Burdo plans on using this grant to further her study in AIDS-associated peripheral neuropathy, which is a tingling, numb sensation or pain that begins at the toes and spreads throughout the feet, legs, and arms.

Burdo, who completed her doctoral dissertation at Pennsylvania State University, has spent much of her career studying central nervous system (CNS) diseases, specifically human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Burdo has focused in her doctoral work and post-doctoral fellowship research on HIV-associated illnesses, including dementia, and their effects on the immune system.

The NIH Research Project Grant could provide a massive breakthrough in several areas of Burdo’s interests and research in peripheral neuropathy. With this grant, Burdo plans to continue her research at BC to use non-human primate models of neuroAIDS to study the virus’ role in peripheral neuropathy and how the inflammation of dorsal root ganglia (DRG), located near the spine, is connected to it. Previous research has indicated that DRG and macrophage traffic is most likely associated with the painful disease, and Burdo’s research will attempt to discover the definitive connection between the two and how it drives the disease. As of right now, according to past research, macrophage traffic and DRG macrophages as a viral reservoir is speculated to be related to the progression of the disease, but Burdo’s research will attempt to confirm that.

Burdo’s research has two aims: first, to define the role of monocyte traffic as it relates to peripheral neuropathy and how the DRG plays a role, and second, to study the systemic viral suppression in hopes of slowing or stopping peripheral neuropathy and managing macrophage traffic to the DRG.

According to Burdo’s grant abstract, her studies will play a huge role in determining how HIV-associated peripheral neuropathy is caused and ways to prevent it or preserve quality of life in those affected by it.

“HIV-associated peripheral neuropathy is the most common neurological complication of HIV infection with prevalence as high as 69.4 percent in infected patients,” Burdo said. She also explained what techniques she plans on using to conduct her research.

“We use a rhesus macaque model of AIDS to study monocyte/macrophage traffic in peripheral nerve pathogenesis,” Burdo said. “The study will conduct research help to define the mechanisms causing the disease and test how effective some courses of antiretroviral therapy are.”
Burdo’s public health statement explained that research in these areas will help define several of the mysteries associated with diseases affecting the nervous system.

“Studies in this application will allow us to define mechanisms of DRG pathology, monocyte/macrophage immune regulation during peripheral nerve system disease, and the ability of effective antiretroviral therapy to stop monocyte traffic and to clear DRG macrophage reservoirs,” the statement read.

Burdo explained that receiving this grant was a huge step in a progressive direction for BC’s research department.

“Our research is cutting-edge and is public health related,” Burdo said. “Our work will help put BC on the map for research. If the institution is trying to move forward as a powerhouse research university, having major NIH funded grants will aid in this.” Burdo also commented that many students are excited about the opportunity to work on AIDS-related research. Other faculty studies in the biology department have included research in bioinformatics, cell cycle biology, molecular cell biology, and infection and immunity.

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