UMass researches new and improved AIDS treatments

By David Barnstone

A University of Massachusetts researcher has established a new statistical tool that holds potential for improving the treatment of AIDS in developing countries.

Andrea Foulkes, head of the Biostatistics program in the school of public health and health sciences at the University of Massachusetts, and her colleagues propose a prediction-based classification (PBC) model that would prioritize the initiation of antiretroviral therapy for AIDS patients based on their CD-4 T-cell count.

The HIV virus destroys these important immune system cells and can lead to the development of AIDS, Foulkes said in an email.

“Fortunately, antiretroviral therapies can delay the onset of clinical disease and death. While an individual is on an effective treatment regimen, his/her CD4 cell count is expected to remain high,” she said.

The tested algorithm accurately predicted 90 percent of CD4 cell counts based on regularly measured longitudinal biomarkers like white blood cells, which are vital components of the immune system.

In countries where resources are limited, the allocation of those resources to patients who would benefit most from them is crucially important.  Clinically relevant thresholds of CD4 cell counts would be used to determine when to begin antiretroviral therapy.

“The next step will be to test if this strategy works in practice,” Foulkes said.  “We will see if it’s a useful triage tool in resource-limited settings.”  Foulkes and her colleagues’ research was published last week in PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal by the Public Library of Science.

Foulkes became interested in public health following a semester she spent in Kenya during her undergraduate career.

“[There I] realized how devastating these infectious diseases are, especially in countries that have limited resources compared to the United States.”

David Barnstone can be reached at [email protected]