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AIDS turns 30: big strides, new challenges:
Aging at Hawaii Ceter for AIDS, Cecilia Shikuma MD
  HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 30 years ago this week, doctors first identified the virus that causes AIDS. There's still no cure but much has been done in that time to help HIV and AIDS patients live full lives.
What scientists are finding now, however, is that, as patients' compromised immune systems age, other health complications are cropping up, such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer.
"Our research is showing higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancers," said Dr. Cecilia Shikuma, Director of JABSOM's Hawai'i Center for AIDS. "In our local HIV-infected population over the age of 40, 27% have evidence of diabetes or pre-diabetes, 56% show early signs of hardening of the arteries, and 54% have some memory problems."
Dr. Shikuma believes that aging of the immune system plays a big role in causing these complications, and that HIV may be causing the immune system to age more rapidly.
Understanding how HIV affects the aging of the immune system is a key undertaking of the Hawai'i Center for AIDS, which has just recruited two new HIV immunologists, Jason Barbour and Lishomwa Ndhlovu, to JABSOM to work on better understanding the problem, with hopes of developing better treatment.
Tiffany Chambers says, for many years, she planned for death, not life.
"When I first got it, it was something that you don't tell anybody - you were ashamed of," explains Chambers. "And it was, 'you're going to die'. You had that mindset."
She contracted HIV in 1992. At 17, drunk and on drugs, she got a butterfly tattoo. Unbeknownst to her, the tattoo artist used a dirty needle. "It's not just drug addicts, prostitutes, and gays that have it. It's also some people that just are young, making dumb decisions."
Chambers has now had AIDS half her life. Many survivors live long and full lives these days - thanks, in part, to advances in anti-retroviral drugs. But now, scientists are discovering other problems.
Researchers at UH's John Burns School of Medicine have found, in Hawaii's HIV infected community, those over the age of 40 are seeing premature signs of aging in their immune system. 27 percent show signs of diabetes or pre-diabetes. 56 percent show early hardening of arteries, and 54 percent have memory problems.
Dr. Bruce Shiramizu, an AIDS researcher at the Burns medical school says, "Because they're living longer, it's opening up new questions in terms of what the complications are, what are the issues that need to be dealt with now?"
Dr. Shiramizu has been researching the virus for more than 20 years. He says having an infection, along with the virus, creates chronic inflammation in the body. The immune system responds to that in different ways in various organs.
In the past 30 years in Hawaii, there have been 1,891 confirmed AIDS deaths. The Life Foundation - which works with HIV AIDS survivors - says there are approximately 3,000 people in Hawaii who live with the disease. About 25 percent are unaware they're carrying the virus.
Scientists aren't close to a cure for HIV AIDS, but they're continuing their work - so survivors, like Chambers, can plan their lives, instead of their deaths.
"Now, it's different," Chambers says. "It's more like, I can live with this!"
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