The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has awarded Dr. Jennifer Fulcher $495,000 to study how methamphetamine and HIV work together to trigger changes in a person’s gut microbiome that increase the risk of acquiring the virus that causes AIDS and worsens the disease.

The three-year award will help Fulcher and colleagues build on prior research that sheds light on how the stimulant drug increases rectal tissue inflammation and causes inflammatory changes in the gut microbiome.

“Many of the health effects of methamphetamine are due to inflammation associated with chronic use,” said Fulcher, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Its use significantly worsens HIV disease.”

Specifically, Fulcher and her team will study how methamphetamine affects gut bacterial growth, activates gut immune cells and affects response to HIV. Understanding these mechanisms could lead to treatments, such as targeted probiotics or fecal microbial transplants, that could prevent gut inflammation.

“Reduction in gut inflammation would help reduce the risk of HIV transmission and reduce complications in people living with HIV and substance use,” she said.