The University of Iowa and University of Nebraska Medical Center will share a five-year, six-point-three-million dollar grant to study the damaged immune systems of alcoholics. Pathology professor Dr. Robert Cook says they’ll look at white blood cells that fight infection and cytokines, the molecules that make the system work.In patients who’ve been abusers, these are abnormal, and it’s well-known that these patients have much more incidence of infectious disease like pneumonia. Like AIDS patients, longtime over-users of alcohol are in a category doctors call “immunologically challenged.” He says the challenge is different than in AIDS, which has already been studied, and though there are changes in the immune system, they’re different ones. The kinds of disease alcohol-abusers get are those we all get, but when we’d get a winter cold, the alcoholic is far more likely to get a secondary pneumonia. Longterm alcohol abuse actually changes some of the body’s functions, and Dr. Cook says those will be studied through models.Even detox doesn’t fix the problem, he says, and some changes in the body may linger for a long time — in fact, some may never return to normal. Dr. Robert Cook works at the Iowa City VA Hospital as well as the University of Iowa Medical Center.
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