Shelli Farhadian, MD, PhD, assistant professor of infectious diseases and neurology, is interested in how systemic infections affect the brain and mind. Her research on neuroinfectious diseases focuses on several areas: HIV effects on the aging brain; neurological symptoms in acute and post-acute COVID-19; and central nervous system effects of other infections, including syphilis.
Farhadian came to Yale in 2015 for an internal medicine residency and stayed in 2018 for an infectious diseases fellowship. She received the Iva Dostanic Physican-Scientist Award from the Department of Internal Medicine in 2019. The award recognizes an intern for exemplary work.
Farhadian began her research as an intern in the research group of Serena Spudich, MD, MA, an internationally renowned expert in neuroinfectious diseases, focusing on the neurological consequences of HIV infection. Like many Yale researchers, she shifted her focus to studying COVID-19 in 2020. As a member of the Yale IMPACT team, she built a biorepository of COVID-19 patient samples to better understand acute COVID-19.
“Having worked with Serena for so many years, I had quite quickly gained an understanding of how to start a translational research study with humans,” she said.
As the initial wave of COVID subsided, Farhadian turned her attention to people who reported having symptoms after their initial infection, a situation often referred to as long-term COVID.
“Together with Dr. Spudich, we used many of the tools that we and others had developed for studying HIV and the brain for studying this new constellation of symptoms,” Farhadian said.
“By studying HIV and other neuroinfectious diseases, we learned that we can understand something about what happens in the central nervous system by examining proteins and cells in the spinal fluid,” she said. “We have a study in which people in our community in New Haven and surrounding areas are volunteering blood and spinal fluid. They go through rigorous neuropsychological testing, lots of symptom questionnaires, mood tests and through that we hope to learn something about what could be causing these symptoms.
With HIV, she has focused specifically on adults with a long-term HIV infection. They “are doing great with their drugs, have an undetectable viral load, but some may continue to experience neurological consequences from the infection,” she said. “I’m really interested in understanding why that’s even in people taking antiretroviral therapy.”
As an HIV doctor, Farhadian treats people with HIV, many of whom are older men. Her research is based on the problems she hears from her patients. “I want to help my patients live long and healthy lives. Many of them want to know what they can do to keep their minds healthy as they get older. I hope our research can help us better understand how living with HIV can affect the brain, and ultimately help us find new strategies to help our patients.”
The Division of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Internal Medicine is engaged in a wide range of patient care, research and educational activities. To learn more about their work, visit Infectious diseases.