Wheeler receives five-year, $3.3M R01

Photo of Pariya Wheeler

By Laura Gasque

University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing Associate Professor Pariya Wheeler, PhD, and Andrea Norcini Pala, PhD, of Columbia University, have been awarded a five-year, $3.3 million R01 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the effect of immune activation on neurocognitive impairment and the role of psychosocial factors among women living with HIV.

“Compared to men living with HIV, women living with HIV experience higher rates of many risk factors for cognitive impairment, including chronic immune activation, unique psychosocial risk factors, non-adherence to HIV medications as well as unique sex-specific biological factors,” Wheeler said. “By leveraging existing data and biospecimen available for the women in the MACS/WIHS Combined Cohort Study (MWCCS), this study will allow us to examine the interplay of neurobiological and psychosocial mechanisms underpinning cognitive impairment profiles over time among women living with HIV. A study of this nature would not be possible without leveraging the vast and rich resources available in the context of MWCCS, including the strong and collaborative investigative team.”

The results of the study could have clinical implications for the prevention and treatment of cognitive impairment in women living with HIV. Examining what specific biological and psychosocial factors impact distinct cognitive profiles will inform personalized intervention targets ranging from pharmacological to psychosocial to behavioral therapies.

“In addition to the clinical implications, results from this study will have significant research implications for designing future studies comparing cognitive trajectories between men and women living with HIV,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler is an experimental psychologist with academic training in lifespan development, cognitive aging, and gerontology. Her research interests include cognitive aging among older adults with HIV, with a focus on predictors of successful cognitive aging as well as rehabilitation strategies to promote successful cognitive aging in this population.

In spring 2022, Wheeler received a two-year, $100,000 grant to study the neuropsychological impact of COVID-19 in older adults. It was one of UAB’s first grants examining the cognitive effects of COVID. In August 2022, she also was awarded a National Institute on Aging R21 grant for nearly half a million dollars over two years, to examine the efficacy and mechanisms of a resilience intervention among older people living with HIV.

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