Neuroimmunology, Health & Behavior Initiative

The School of Integrated Science and Humanity houses the Neuroimmunology, Health & Behavior Initiative as part of the overall development of SISH's behavioral health programs. SISH enhances the university's ability to create lasting change through its research in the social science and humanities’ fields. The Neuroimmunology, Health & Behavior Initiative presents an opportunity for the school to move forward its research agenda in areas such as immunology, neuropsychology and health economics, as well as in the basic biomedical and behavioral sciences.

We are dedicated to improving the health and health care of our community through research and research training. As a team, we are committed to addressing the needs of populations that have been disproportionately burdened by the epidemic of HIV, and tobacco or alcohol abuse. The ultimate goal of our research is to create lasting changes in our community through NHBI research. To achieve this goal we also support the training of new investigators who bring fresh ideas and help to further expand research programs.

Innovative studies are currently being done on topics such as "...the cardiovascular risks of alcohol on people living with HIV," "neurocognitive damage, health outcomes and direct medical costs triggered by tobacco use..." and "the role of brain-derived neurotropic factors (BDNF) in risk behavior decision-making."

Research Interests

For several years, Dr. Miguez interests as a translational researcher included medical (e.g., risk factors for hospitalizations, dementia, respiratory infections) behavioral (e.g., smoking, alcohol use, high-risk sexual behaviors) and immune issues (immune responses such as IgE, cytokine profiles, inflammatory responses, the effects of alcohol on thymus), plus development of patented laboratory tests.

Now, with the evolution of HIV into a chronic disease, her research reflects the new challenges that the clinicians and researchers have to address. Nowadays with the introduction of HAART, the excessive rates of smoking (40-80%) and hazardous alcohol use among PLWH (60%) are likely to seriously threaten the health advantages achieved with HAART. In this regards our group is documenting how both tobacco and alcohol are sustaining deleterious inflammatory responses, increasing neuropsychological impairments and up-surging health costs.

Beyond drug abuse, and based in our prior studies our team is concerned with the expanding prescription of lipid lowering medications among both HIV positive and HIV negative populations. Therefore, some of our efforts are focused in documenting the deleterious effects of hypocholesterolemia over the central nervous and the immune systems. We are also exploring how such a deleterious lipid profile may impact addiction risks and compromise intervention efforts.

Current research efforts also reflect our concerns with gender and race disparities. Although widely attributed to social determinants, our work is focused on how biological factors can be playing an important, yet, overlooked role. Efforts are now concentrated on understanding the molecular and cellular changes induced by platelets, lipids and cytokine disruptions on health disparities. This work has laid a strong foundation to pursue further research in this area.

Over the years her work on neuroimmunology has been expanded to examine novel areas of research such as the thymus-CNS and platelet-CNS interactions. Innovative studies are currently being done on topics such as the role of brain-derived neurotropic factors (BDNF) in risk behavior decision-making.