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Using hair to manage HIV/AIDS and predict treatment success
Date:3/3/2009

UCSF researchers have found that examining levels of antiretroviral drugs in hair samples taken from HIV patients on therapy strongly predicts treatment success.

The findings, published in the February 20 issue of AIDS, note that the levels of antiretrovirals found in the hair of patients on treatment correlated strongly with levels of HIV virus circulating in patients' blood.

"High levels of antiretrovirals in hair correlated with success in HIV viral suppression in treatment and did so better than any of the other variables usually considered to predict response," said the study's primary investigator, Monica Gandhi, MD MPH, assistant professor of medicine at UCSF's Positive Health Program at San Francisco General Hospital.

Typically, clinicians rely on either self-report by patients, pill counts or expensive medication dispensing devices to monitor how well patients are taking their pills as directed. These methods are highly patient dependent and have not been good predictors of treatment success.

Clinicians can draw blood and then measure plasma levels of medications, but since a single plasma level represents medication exposure only hours prior to the blood draw, this method has also not been a good predictor of viral suppression, according to Gandhi. Single drug levels can vary day-by-day for a single patient and may reflect improved pill-taking by patients just before clinic visits, she said.

Hair, which grows at a rate of about a centimeter a month, gives a reading of drug levels that reflects the rate of pill consumption sustained by patients over weeks, not days. Assessing an average level of drug exposure over time may be more predictive of treatment response than the "snapshot" of exposure provided by a single plasma level of medication, Gandhi said.

"Hair sampling for antiretroviral levels could become a new standard to look at how much drug a patient is gettingan equivalent in
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Contact: Jeff Sheehy
jsheehy@ari.ucsf.edu
415-597-8165
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert

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