Understanding accelerated ageing for people living with HIV: a trainee’s story
The NIHR Newcastle BRC is committed to advancing the scientific knowledge on the most common age-related diseases and long-term conditions, in order to improve treatments and potential cures. In his NIHR Newcastle BRC-funded PhD, Matthew Hunt explored the underlying causes of accelerated ageing for people living with HIV (PLWH). Here, he tells us more about his project and what he has achieved.
Can you give us a summary of your research?
The aim of my research was to try to better understand the underlying mechanisms that are causing some people living with HIV (PLWH) to appear to biologically age more quickly.
Even though the majority of PLWH are now on effective treatment in the form of antiretroviral therapy, the average older PLWH is more likely to develop age-related conditions and diseases as well as die younger, compared to an HIV-uninfected person of similar age. Therefore, insights into the cellular and molecular causes of this accelerated ageing are key in order to hopefully develop future therapies.
What has your research shown?
By using a range of experimental techniques on skeletal muscle and blood from PLWH and HIV-uninfected individuals, my research has shown that decline in the function of mitochondria – small organelles in every living cell that are responsible for energy production among other things – is a key reason behind this accelerated ageing in PLWH.
However, my research has further shown that this ageing process is extremely complicated, and that there is no one single reason behind this acceleration. Importantly though, my research has also demonstrated that maintaining exercise is vitally important and beneficial in hindering this accelerated ageing.
How important was the participation of the public your research?
Without the participation of the public my research and countless other research projects would be impossible! Ageing, and especially ageing in PLWH is a complicated process and therefore can’t be fully recapitulated synthetically in the lab. Therefore, the best way to properly understand what is going on is to actually involve the people affected themselves.
Fortunately the response I received when recruiting participants was extremely positive, as they themselves were all keen to help improve the knowledge in the field.
What have you gained from being an NIHR funded trainee?
The NIHR was a great institution to undertake a PhD with, as they offered countless opportunities to work alongside genuine world experts, as well as providing various training opportunities.
What are your next steps?
I have been offered a postdoc position at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, where I will be researching the role of mitochondria in skin ageing and chronic wound healing.