TMARC Pilot Studies - Active

Characterizing the Relationship of METH Use and Neurocognitive Impairment in HIV At-risk Online Networks (Weibel)

Agency: TMARC
PI: Weibel, Nadir, Ph.D.


As of today nearly 37 million people are living with HIV, and 1.2 million people died of AIDS in 2014 worldwide. The research community has documented increasing rates of new HIV infection in men who have sex with men (MSM) frequently driven by, or in association with, the co-occurring epidemics of methamphetamine (METH) use. Unprotected anal sex is a significant risk factor for HIV transmission and acquisition in this group of men, and is closely associated with substance use, particularly METH use. Despite the tremendous speed at which information technology has improved, we still have no fast and accurate methods to identify populations susceptible to HIV infections and characterize the different risk factors, in particular drug abuse, at scale. This adversely impacts our efforts to implement targeted and therefore more effective HIV prevention. However, social media (such as Twitter) – that are typically used to connect with friends/acquaintances online but also to follow real-time events (such as the Arab Spring) and share other information users find interesting – have been recently used as broad, large-scale and real-time monitoring tools for HIV in the United States. Just as HIV transmission networks are used to identify high-yield prevention targets for antiretroviral interventions, we believe that social network data derived from social media may be used to characterize HIV-risk social network structure, and may help to identify those at greatest risk for acquiring HIV infection. This proposed study builds on our initial and very successful PIRC-Net infrastructure that allowed us to collect, filter, store and classify 15M+ publicly available Tweets in terms of their HIV risk. In our current work we analyzed the Twitter connections between users who tweet about high-risk behavior in the San Diego area, to ultimately identify and characterize high-yield targets for HIV prevention. Our preliminary results show that the most common indicators of HIV risk in the Twitter public network in San Diego are focused on terms relating to drug (40%) and homosexual behavior (50%). In this TMARC pilot study we want to combine our analysis capabilities and the TMARC expertise and resources, including potential access to the existing cohorts, to investigate the characteristics of identified HIV at-risk populations, their tweeting behavior around METH use, and their potential effect on neurocognitive impairment.

Sponsored by NIH/NIDA P50DA026306

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