The UNC CFAR has a robust membership of doctors and researchers who work internationally to increase knowledge, decrease stigma, and provide care and support in the field of HIV/AIDS. CFAR investigator Dr. Joseph Tucker, assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine and director of UNC Project-China, is doing innovative work in developing social and biomedical research, and capable global scientists, to work on controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Tucker’s research examines how major shifts in China’s social and economic climate have resulted in the resurgence of syphilis, HIV, and other STIs. He has ongoing projects that focus on social entrepreneurship for sexual health and the social epidemiology of STIs. He lives and works throughout the year with his family in Guangzhou, the capitol of Guangdong Province, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He is PI on an NIH Fogarty International Research Scientist Development Award and serves as a mentor for trainees and junior investigators.
This past summer, Dr. Tucker facilitated the UNC-South China STD Research Training course – an intensive, week-long training course that Tucker described as “fantastic because it provides a structured mechanism to support junior Chinese trainees interested in STD/HIV research”. The training course included academic lectures on clinical science, epidemiology, and diseases prevention, as well as skills building workshops on grant writing, data collection, and project management. Tucker shared, “Despite the sweltering heat (one UNC professor said it felt just like home) and a packed agenda, there was great enthusiasm from both the China and UNC participants. We had a 360 evaluation that included participant evaluation, training faculty evaluation, and external evaluation. The consensus was that the training course exceeded trainee expectations and filled an important niche, catering to junior trainees who often do not have a chance to attend international conferences or get an opportunity to receive guidance from UNC training faculty. The whole point of the training course was to jump start research collaborations between UNC training faculty and Chinese faculty and trainees. With the D43 (mentoring) grant, now we can have a far more reciprocal training experience that is beneficial for all involved.” September 10th is “Teacher’s Day” in China and the Guangzhou postdocs have organized a dinner in honor of Teacher Joe.
Dr. Tucker’s work spans across the globe; his project searcHIV: Social and Ethical Aspects of Research on Curing HIV is comprised of a multi-site, multi-disciplinary working group focusing on investigating the biosocial implications of curing HIV infection. They have three research sites, located in Cape Town, South Africa, Chapel Hill, NC and Guangzhou, China. Tucker explained, “From an anthropological perspective, there are substantial differences in the social context of HIV in the US, South Africa, and China. For example, take civil society organizations. In the US, civil society organizations were leading the calls for accelerated HIV ART approval at the FDA and have played a pivotal role to push forward new HIV policies. In South Africa, there is also a strong civil society presence, but organized along different themes and strategies. In China, the development of civil society has been more complex, creating challenges in reaching and retaining key populations in some contexts.” The multiple study sites give his team opportunities for cross-cultural comparisons, which help in identifying intersecting themes about the unintended implications of HIV cure. Tucker’s research “hopes to take advantage of these cultural and social differences” as his teams analyze the social and ethical dimensions of cure HIV research.
The results of Tucker’s investigations can be used to assist HIV cure researchers as they create informed consent documents, design research studies, and continue HIV cure research. Tucker noted, “We are fortunate to have Professor David Margolis’s CARE team at UNC. They are an absolutely top-notch group, world leaders in the basic science and clinical aspects of HIV cure research. We are also excited to learn more about structuring community engagement on this topic and how to engage a broad range of stakeholders.”