When John Schetz, saw a television news account of how a highly effective and widely used drug to treat HIV was being ground up and smoked for recreational use in South Africa, he decided to find out why. Schetz, tenured associate professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, found that the antiretroviral (ARV) drug, efavirenz, interacts with specific subtypes of serotonin receptors in the brain, much the way the hallucinogen LSD does. The interaction appears to explain why efavirenz, sold under the trade names Sustiva and Stocrin, even when taken as prescribed, can cause neuropsychiatric side effects, such as hallucinations, depersonalization, depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior, night terrors, psychosis and delusions. Schetz said he hopes the findings from the research team he assembled, which includes other researchers from UNTHSC and around the country, will help generate support for additional studies aimed at preventing ARV side effects and abuse. Recreational use of ARV drugs is a potential public health concern because it could encourage the development of ARV-resistant strains of HIV. Re-engineering such a highly effective ARV drug, like efavirenz, without adverse neuropsychiatric side effects and abuse potential, could foster better patient compliance, reduce the likelihood of drug resistant strains of the virus and prevent illegal use of HIV medications, he said. Schetz presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Boston on April 21. He also has been working to develop new eco-friendly paints that prevent barnacles from attaching to boat hulls and is seeking support to apply an analogous strategy to prevent zebra mussels, now proliferating in North Texas lakes, from adhering to boats and fouling water pipes. Schetz’s said his laboratory is interested in solving problems and answering questions of relevance to medicine and the environment.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.