Dr. Unwalla’s current research focuses on understanding the role of aberrant microRNAs in health and disease.
Specifically, the laboratory focuses on the role of aberrant microRNAs in HIV biology that contributes to non-AIDS comorbidities. In aging HIV-infected populations, comorbid diseases are important determinants of morbidity and mortality. The combination of antiretroviral therapy has made HIV a treatable disease. However, HIV patients die of non-AIDS comorbidities almost a decade earlier than their non-HIV counterparts. Lung diseases such as COPD, pulmonary hypertension, and pneumonia are emerging as significant comorbidities in the HIV-infected population This is exacerbated in HIV patients who are addicted to nicotine and smoke tobacco. We have shown that HIV infection and cigarette smoking promote an aberrant microRNAome that can play a causal role in the development of COPD in people living with HIV and in smokers by promoting airway inflammation. Aberrant microRNAs may also play a causal role in linking diabetes, obesity, and cigarette smoking, to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.