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Cizik School of Nursing Researcher to Study Symptom Management of HIV Positive Patients

Meagan Whisenant
Meagan Whisenant

Across the world, more than 37.6 million people are currently living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the past year alone, 15 million new cases were diagnosed. While the survival rate for people living with HIV has improved over the decades, what remains unknown is how the aggressive treatments for the disease affect one’s overall well-being and day-to-day function.

Thanks to a grant from the Texas Development Center for AIDS Research (D-CFAR), the Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston will have the opportunity to learn more about the symptoms people with HIV experience as a result of their infection and treatment.

“For many years, we have focused on keeping people with HIV alive. We have not studied the long-term effect of treatments and the impact this treatment and infection have on the quality of life,” said Meagan Whisenant, PhD, APRN, assistant professor at the Cizik School of Nursing, who will serve as principal investigator for the study. “If we can better understand how people react to antiretroviral therapies prescribed for managing HIV, we can hopefully improve patients’ adherence to treatment regimes.”

The grant from the D-CFAR totaling nearly $50,000 will allow Whisenant and her colleagues to study symptoms with the ultimate goal of developing and testing interventions for symptom management among those living with HIV to improve quality of life and adherence to treatment protocols.

Whisenant, who spent time at The University of MD Anderson Cancer Center studying patient-reported outcomes and symptoms among oncology patients, looks forward to applying this expertise creating a proactive system for monitoring symptoms among those living with HIV. Three experts in HIV clinical care and research from the Houston AIDS Research Site at the McGovern Medical School will join her, including Roberto Arduino, MD; Jordan Lake, MD, MSc; and Karen Vigil, MD. The four will work alongside Tito Mendoza, MD, and Shelley Wang, MD, both from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“There is a huge body of knowledge out there about cancer patients and the symptoms they experience when they receive radiation and chemotherapy. When compared to those with HIV, however, there is very little. Anecdotally, we know that some people on therapies for HIV experience depression, anxiety, issues with cognitive functioning, and fatigue, but there is not enough clinical data available to help these patients properly manage their symptoms,” said Whisenant.

As part of the study, Whisenant and her fellow researchers will specifically look at factors that put people with HIV at greater risk of side effects from treatment. These factors may include gender, age, education, specific treatment regimens, stage of HIV infection, and any existing co-morbidities.

Whisenant and her team applied for the funding in July. In September, they learned that their grant was awarded. Whisenant hit the ground running, taking a crash course on the clinical management of HIV to appropriately transfer her knowledge of symptom science to a different patient population.

Whisenant and her team will enroll patients from the Harris Health System Thomas Street Health Center into the study, slated to open by the end of the year.

“I’m anxious to dive in so we can gain an understanding of the variation and patterns of symptoms among people with HIV to improve quality of life and daily functioning, treatment adherence, work productivity, and hospital and emergency department utilization,” said Whisenant.

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