Symptom Science Study Seeks to Develop Deeper Understanding of HIV-Related Neuropathic Pain

foot pain illustration
© sankalpmaya/iStock

Joyce Anastasi, PhD, DrNP, FAAN, Independence Foundation Professor at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing, was awarded a $3.5 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study whether stimulating acupuncture points can help manage HIV-related neuropathic pain.

Distal sensory neuropathic pain (DSP) is one of the most debilitating neurological complications of HIV, affecting nearly 1 in 3 people living with HIV. DSP manifests as pain, numbness, tingling, and burning over the soles of the feet and the distal portion of the toes. Treatments prescribed to manage DSP such as nonnarcotic and narcotic analgesics (including opioids), antidepressants, and anticonvulsants, are largely ineffective, potentially addictive, and may carry side effects.  There are no FDA-approved agents to treat DSP in HIV, and agents tested in randomized clinical trials fail to show superiority to placebo.

The objective of this new clinical research study is to conduct a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial to test the efficacy of a non-pharmacologic approach to reduce DSP. Anastasi and colleagues will enroll 196 people with HIV-related DSP. Participants will be randomized to one of four groups to investigate the efficacy of acupuncture and moxibustion, a traditional Chinese therapy, to reduce DSP symptoms.

Anastasi, the director of the Division of Special Studies in Symptom Management at NYU Meyers, is a renowned symptom management scientist with an extensive history of studying methods to control chronic symptoms in people with HIV and other health conditions. Findings from her preliminary studies using acupuncture and moxibustion to manage HIV-related DSP show its promise as an effective therapy. The NIH-funded study will also create a rich dataset of characteristics of symptoms of people with HIV, providing a more complete understanding of HIV-related neuropathic pain.

"Many people living with HIV and chronic illnesses turn to complementary and alternative therapies to treat health-related conditions, including alleviating pain and reducing the side effects of medication, but few therapies have been sufficiently evaluated,” said Anastasi. “Results from this randomized controlled clinical trial will provide patients and clinicians with an evidenced-based, non­pharmacologic therapeutic option to manage this painful condition, which is sorely needed.”

The five-year grant (R01-NR017917-01) is funded by the NIH’s National Institute for Nursing Research. For more information on the study, visit

About NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing (@NYUNursing)
NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing and health. Founded in 1932, the College offers BS, MS, DNP, and PhD degree programs providing the educational foundation to prepare the next generation of nursing leaders and researchers. NYU Meyers has three programs ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report and is among the top 10 nursing schools receiving NIH funding, thanks to its research mission and commitment to innovative approaches to healthcare worldwide.

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