Dr. Jeff Stringer Awarded Third Grant from Gates’ Foundation

In 2018, Jeff received the first Fetal Age Machine Learning Initiative (FAMLI) grant, a feasibility investment concerned primarily with automated estimation of gestational age. It focused upon generation of specific ultrasound datasets to train machine learning models and on scoping additional functions and features of an AI-enabled ultrasound system.

In 2019, a second FAMLI grant extended the investment in data collection, expanded the resources available for machine learning, and introduced new partnerships with companies developing low-cost, handheld ultrasound solutions. As a result of this work, UNC developed a successful blind sweep gestational age estimation model that outperforms expert sonographers and has just launched a field validation of this gestational age tool in Chapel Hill and in Zambia.

The new FAMLI 3 award provides $17 million over 4 years for UNC to significantly expand this work. The primary goal of this award is the development and validation of one or more multi-functional, AI-enabled, automated, low-cost ultrasound devices, and the collection of data necessary to support widespread recommendation and adoption by agencies such as the World Health Organization and national Ministries of Health. This award will integrate with and leverage other Gates Foundation-funded work to expand the scope of the learning and testing datasets and support broad scientific engagement with international collaborators.

–Leslie H. Nelson-Bernier

Chief Philanthropy Officer, UNC Health

President, UNC Health Foundation

UNC School of Medicine Names 2021-22 Yang Family Biomedical Scholars

This story was originally posted on July 5, 2022 on the UNC School Of Medicine Newsroom website, which is linked HERE.

Mauro Calabrese, PhD, Nilu Goonetilleke, PhD, and Adam Hantman, PhD, were selected as Yang Family Biomedical Scholars in the sixth installment of this annual School of Medicine award.

The UNC School of Medicine has named three outstanding researchers as recipients of the sixth annual Yang Family Biomedical Scholars Award. They are: Mauro Calabrese, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology, Nilu Goonetilleke, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, and Adam Hantman, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and physiology. Calabrese is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Goonetilleke is a member of the UNC HIV Cure Center, and Hantman is a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center.

Each faculty member will receive a generous grant to be used at their discretion for biomedical research projects at the UNC School of Medicine. The researchers are now members of the Yang Family Society of Biomedical Scholars, which will host its sixth annual seminar to highlight their work later this year. The awards were made possible through donations from Yuanqing Yang, Chairman and CEO of Lenovo with additional financial support from Mr. To Hing Wu, an associate to Mr. Yang.

“We are so thankful for Mr. Yang and Mr. Wu’s generous support of the UNC School of Medicine’s biomedical research community,” said Blossom Damania, PhD, Vice Dean for Research at the UNC School of Medicine, the Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and a Lineberger member. “Drs. Calabrese, Goonetilleke, and Hantman are making innovative discoveries in their respective fields, and we know further funding will help them pursue research crucial to improving human health.”

With the Yang Scholars program, the UNC School of Medicine has established a community of dedicated, promising young tenured faculty. The award recognizes faculty that have made significant scholarly contributions to their field while also receiving national recognition for their research.

Dr. Calabrese focuses on the roles of molecules called long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) in gene regulation – a critical component of health and disease. The human genome produces billions of nucleotides worth of RNA, yet only about 2% of it encodes for proteins. Essentially all of the remaining RNA can be classified as lncRNA, the sheer amount of which and their predominance in the nuclei of cells hints at their importance in gene regulation.

Calabrese and colleagues found that regulatory function of lncRNA can be identified computationally, providing an initial indication that recurring sequence patterns do indeed exist in lncRNAs and that scientists can identify these patterns to predict the functions of lncRNAs. His work represents a major advance towards understanding complex biological processes involving the “other 98%” of all RNAs.

His computational methods are being widely adopted by other investigators in the field, indicative of his broad impact within the scientific community.

Dr. Goonetilleke focuses on understanding how T cell immunity contributes to control of infectious diseases, vaccine-mediated immunity, immunotherapies, as well as autoimmunity. Her lab has shown that people on successful HIV therapy have a reduced response to the virus but maintain a residual response that is higher than would be expected if there were no virus. The implication is that there is enough virus production ongoing from the latent reservoir of HIV to keep the immune system active. This observation made sense of the observed fact that HIV-positive individuals experience continued immune activation despite therapy that suppresses viral replication.

Dr. Goonetilleke also found that the virus in the latent HIV reservoir is, by and large, sensitive to immune cells, showing that a person’s immune system is primed to help clear the virus. But so far, the agents used to activate the latent virus can limit the effectiveness of immune cells. She has conducted thoughtful analyses of immune cell function in the presence of latency reversing agents and is investigating interventions to better treat and potentially cure individuals with HIV.

Dr. Hantman studies brain dynamics that underlie behavior, so to better understand how those dynamics are generated and shaped. His lab focuses on “prehension” because how mammals grasp things is a learned, complex behavior that scientists think involves many regions of the central nervous system. The Hantman lab combines techniques such as circuit mapping, perturbations, and physiological recordings to study skillful movements that contribute to the major functions of the brain, such as perception and manipulation of the world.

Motor control involves many underlying brain operations and a diverse set of neural circuits. Through experimentation, Hantman and colleagues seek to identify and understand the intricate mechanisms responsible for skillful motor control, which is pertinent for human health but lost as a result of debilitating neurodegenerative diseases.

The School of Medicine will announce the date of the Yang Family Biomedical Scholars seminar and reception at a later date.

Contact: Mark Derewicz

Dr. Adaora Adimora On How HIV Impacts Women and Minorities

For National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDSVu spoke with Dr. Adaora Adimora about increasing the rate of PrEP use among women and minorities impacted by HIV.

Adaora Adimora, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Epidemiology at the UNC School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Center for AIDS Research.

Q: Your career has largely focused on the epidemiology of STDs and HIV in women and minorities. What drove you towards this specific line of research?

A: For a long time, we have observed marked differences in the rate of STIs between Blacks and whites. Soon after HIV came on the scene, differences between Blacks and whites were observed with HIV as well. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, there was an emphasis on “risk behavior” and “risk groups”. An underlying implication was that Black people in general had “higher risk” sexual behavior than whites. As a Black person with involvement in the Black community, that generalization just did not ring true to me. One thing I noticed was that a portion of Black people I saw with HIV, especially women, had behaviors that did not differ significantly from those of the general population. Some of them had few sexual partners, no drug use. Many didn’t have partners who use drugs or partners who were men who have sex with men (MSM).

Around the same time in the early-to-mid 1990s, there was increasing interest in sexual network patterns and the spread of infection through networks of connected people. Martina Morris, for example, was publishing her groundbreaking work about concurrent partnerships, which is when an individual has overlapping sexual relationships with more than one person. It seemed to me that this could be contributing to the higher rates of HIV and other STIs among Black people. To be clear, this is not saying that Black people have different moral standards, or that whites don’t engage in these behaviors. Rather, it was clear from my own lived experience as a Black person—and from the work of sociologists like William Julius Wilson—that larger social forces like macroeconomics, racism, and their associated effects likely influence behaviors that increase the vulnerability of Black Americans to HIV and worsen health outcomes.

Importantly, the work of the late Paul Farmer introduced me to the idea of structural violence, which is a concept that was first written about by Johan Galtung in the 1960s. This concept stresses that these forces are structural, that they are baked into the system, and that they damage people in a way that limits their life chances. These forces are also so ordinary that they’re almost invisible. The idea is that, although people’s individual behaviors affect their likelihood of getting HIV and other STIs, there are larger systemic forces that affect groups of people unequally and increase their vulnerability to these infections, as well as worsen their outcomes once they have them.

Q: As part of a six-paper series in The Lancet, you authored a paper titled “HIV and women in the USA: what we know and where to go from here”. In it, you address the U.S. plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. What are the unique factors impacting women in the HIV epidemic and how will addressing those specifically help us reach our goals?

A: Black and Hispanic/Latina women are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to white women. The factors that impact women in the HIV epidemic are mostly those, in my view, that are associated with being an oppressed racial minority in the United States. In addition, there are strong intersectional and probably synergistic links between race, poverty, sexism, and HIV. While men who have sex with men bear the lion’s share of the burden of HIV in this country, almost one in five new HIV infections in the U.S. are among women. We will never end the HIV epidemic without attending to HIV among women, as well as the socio-economic factors that contribute to it.

Q: Part of your paper focuses on PrEP use among women. You mention that although the annual percentage change in PrEP use among U.S. men increased by 68% from 2012 to 2017, use among women during the same period only increased by only 5.4%. What factors did you identify that account for this drastic difference?

A: There are several major reasons. First, many women haven’t heard about PrEP at all. In addition, many of those who have heard of it do not think its use is applicable to them, so they don’t ask for it. Second, I suspect that some providers are not comfortable prescribing PrEP at all. Third, some providers do not think of offering PrEP to their female patients or exploring whether its use is warranted. I think some providers make assumptions about their patient’s behavior and the behavior of their patient’s partners or aren’t comfortable talking about sex in general. Consequently, they may not realize that the female patient in front of them might benefit from PrEP.

Fourth, cost is an issue and for uninsured people, and the paperwork required to get free PrEP may be a barrier. Fifth, and this is a huge reason, there is often too little time in the office visit or clinical encounter. Providers are supposed to talk about smoking, screening exams, exercise, mental health, and intimate partner violence, as well as the patient’s existing medical problems, and anything else the patient wants to talk about. You can therefore imagine that providers may have difficulty prioritizing sexual health—including PrEP—during an office visit that is 30 minutes or less, especially if it is not obvious to them that the patient needs or wants PrEP.

Q: Your paper also notes that women are under-represented both in HIV research and as subjects in clinical trials. What effect does this underrepresentation have on health outcomes for women? What recommendations do you suggest for increasing the inclusion of women in this field?

A: It is important to note that women are not just men with estrogen. In addition to hormonal and physiological influences that differ by sex, the context of life differs substantially between men and women. The paucity of women in research means that there is less data to understand the health outcomes and conditions that affect them, how these conditions manifest, and how to treat them. We also need to understand how women feel about biomedical products and whether they can access and use them. Products cannot work if they’re not used. A lack of data on women puts them at risk for being left behind by biomedical advances.

In terms of what can be done to increase the inclusion of women in this field or in research generally, researchers need to remember that participation in a clinical trial is a tremendous act of altruism. Research staff should approach them with respect and consideration, and women need to be properly compensated for their time and the unique difficulties that they may have with transportation, childcare, and jobs. Many women may not have the autonomy that men with higher incomes or higher status jobs might have to easily take time off from work to participate in a trial. Working with community-based organizations and others from the community is also essential in terms of getting women into trials.  Funding agencies need to consider all of this as well. They can use carrots and sticks to strongly incentivize researchers to ensure that they include women in research that they’re funding.

Inclusion in clinical trials is critical, but the funders need to make sure that they properly consider other types of research, including qualitative and social science research that explores questions that are meaningful for women. Including, for example, how and why interventions do or don’t work, and their effects on quality of life.

Q: March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), which highlights the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls. What message do you have for women, girls, and their support community on this day?

A: While new infections among women in the US have decreased in recent years, now is not the time to be complacent. We need to continue our efforts, and in particular continue our fight for social and reproductive justice. One issue that we can all get behind is the need for healthcare coverage and access for all men and women. It is a disgrace that most of the states that have not expanded Medicaid are in some of the poorest areas with the highest rates of HIV, STIs, and other comorbid conditions. We need to vote in our own best interests and encourage others to do so as well.

This article was originally published on March 10th, 2022 on AIDSVu, and the original can be accessed here.

Chi Named Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Vice Chair for Research and Innovation

This story was originally published March 8, 2022 here.

Benjamin Chi, MD, is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been named Vice Chair for Research and Innovation in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. For nearly two decades, he has worked at the intersection of HIV, maternal and child health, and global health.

Benjamin Chi, MD, is Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been named Vice Chair for Research and Innovation in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. For nearly two decades, he has worked at the intersection of HIV, maternal and child health, and global health.

He began his academic career in Zambia during a time of transformative change in HIV and women’s health care. Over this period, he played a key role in the introduction and coordination of new HIV programs, often in places where none had previously existed. He also spearheaded two large public health initiatives funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Chi’s innovative approach to the care for women diagnosed with HIV led to the identification of new treatment options, improved patient adherence, and reduced the rates of vertical HIV transmission. This work was done in partnership with colleagues at the Zambia Ministry of Health and the University of Zambia, with an emphasis on local capacity building and collaboration.

Since returning to the US in 2015, Chi’s work has continued to be informed by this intersection of clinical and implementation research, research training and mentoring, and public health and policy. His work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous private foundations continuously for more than a decade. Cumulatively, he has raised over $30 million in extramural funding to support these efforts.

Chi’s research now spans six African countries. He is studying combination strategies to prevent new HIV infections among pregnant and breastfeeding women. He is also investigating optimal doses of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis during pregnancy and breastfeeding. These studies are supported by two NIH R01 awards, which he leads as principal investigator.  He is also the protocol co-chair for IMPAACT 2009, a multi-center clinical trial investigating the pharmacokinetics, safety, and acceptability of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis among pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Chi currently directs four NIH-funded research training programs. He serves as principal investigator for the UJMT Fogarty Global Health Fellows Program, which supports 20-25 individuals each year in mentored research training. As director of the coordinating center, he leads a consortium of four US universities (UNC, Johns Hopkins University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Tulane University) and a large network of 30 international institutions. He is also the lead for the UNC Global Women’s Health Fellowship and co-lead for the UNC-UNZA-Wits Partnership for HIV and Women’s Reproductive Health. Since 2020, Chi has become increasingly engaged in departmental research and faculty development as well. He is the research director for the UNC Women’s Reproductive Health Research Program, an NIH-funded career development program for promising Ob-Gyn researchers. He also developed educational opportunity for fellows across the department.

A dedicated mentor, Chi has advised numerous graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty across the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Since 2015, he has mentored over 30 early-stage investigators, including eight who are funded by NIH K career development awards. Chi was awarded a K24 mentoring award from the National Institutes of Health to support these efforts. Many of his mentees have gone on to independent research careers of their own.

Finally, Chi is an internationally recognized expert in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and worked with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to translate research into global policy and practice. At UNC, he serves as co-director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research International Core, director of global fellowships and training programs at the UNC Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases, and as member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Margolis Elected Fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Margolis Headshot

David Margolis
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“David Margolis, MD, Sarah Graham Keenan Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology & Immunology, Epidemiology, has been elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The prestigious honor recognizes distinguished contributions to the field of virology, particularly for making key discoveries on the mechanisms of HIV latency and devising new strategies to find a cure for HIV infection. He will be honored at an upcoming AAAS Annual Meeting.”

This story was originally published by the UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom on August 17, 2021 – read more here.


Inter-CFAR Transgender Health Scientific Working Group

Writer: Alicia Diggs

The first inaugural Inter CFAR Transgender Health Scientific Working Group took place October 21, 2021. The working group uses a shared leadership model to work together across CFARs. The leadership team consists of Tonia Poteat (UNC), Will Beckham (Hopkins), Laramie Smith (UCSD), Andrea Wirtz (Hopkins). The team initially met to brainstorm on priorities for the Inter CFAR Transgender Health Working Group and what they hoped to accomplish as a group. They aimed to capitalize on the benefits of working across the different CFARs. They discussed three main pillars for the working group:

  1. Advancing the science
  • addressing gaps in data in trans health and HIV
  • addressing community priorities within those gaps with the goal of advancing the health of trans communities
  1. Community empowerment and collaboration
  • meaningful engagement with communities in equitable partnerships
  1. Networking development and strengthening
  • building a network of trans health researchers and community members to collaborate and strengthen relationships across the CFARs

The group also discussed communication strategies that would effectively disseminate research findings in ways that are useful and accessible to communities. JD Davids of Brooklyn New York and one of the co-authors of No Data No More-Manifesto to Align HIV Prevention Research with Trans and Gender-Diverse Realities, presented highlights from the document. The manifesto is a call to action for advocates, researchers, implementers, funders. Trans and gender diverse people are highly underserved and the data show that trans women are up to 49 times and trans men are up to 8 times as likely to be living with HIV compared with cisgender adults. There too few data on non-binary people to make an estimate of HIV burden. Trans and gender diverse populations have been overlooked in research. Trans women have been incorrectly categorized as cis MSM and trans men have been invisible. Given the stigma, violence, and marginalization faced by trans and gender diverse populations, they are less likely to receive HIV testing, start or adhere to PrEP, or maintain viral load suppression compared with cisgender people. The manifesto lists 22 recommendations that reflects a vision for trans-led HIV prevention research with true ownership in trans and gender diverse communities.

The full manifesto can be found on the AVAC website www.avac.org/no-data-no-more

The next meeting of the Inter-CFAR Transgender Health Working Group will be held on January 27th, 2022, 3:30-5:00p ET. The group will be discussing “Strategies for Community Compensation in Research.” For more information, or to register, please contact Tabs Faulkner (tabs_faulkner@med.unc.edu).

Developmental Core Announces 2 new funding sources

In addition to its recent Microgrant, the UNC CFAR Developmental Core has released its 2022-2023 RFP and a CFAR Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Request for Proposals of HIV/COVID-19 Small Grants. Letters of intent for these proposals are due no later than Wednesday, December 1, 2021. 

All current Developmental Core funding opportunities are linked below.

Microgrant (Rolling Deadline)

Traditional RFP

  • Contact the CFAR Developmental Core during application preparation for a telephone or email conversation to verify eligibility and briefly describe research idea
  • Letter of Intent Due Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2021
  • Application Due Date: Friday, January 7, 2022
  • CFAR Scientific Review: February 2022
  • Notification of Award: early March 2022
    • Actual start date may be delayed if required approvals are delayed; see below.
  • Period of Award: Funding expires on July 31, 2023, however, we ask that you spend as much of your funds as possible by July 31, 2022.


  • Contact the CFAR Developmental Core during application preparation for a telephone or email conversation to verify eligibility and briefly describe research idea
  • Letter of Intent Due Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2021
  • Application Due Date: Friday, January 7, 2022
  • CFAR Scientific Review: February 2022
  • Notification of Award: early March 2022
    • Actual start date may be delayed if required approvals are delayed; see below.
  • Period of Award: Funding expires on July 31, 2023, however, we ask that you spend as much of your funds as possible by July 31, 2022.


Alicia Diggs named one of Plus+ Magazine’s 25 Amazing People of the Year (who are also living with HIV)

Alicia Diggs has been living with HIV for 20 of her 49 years, and she’s made good use of every year. Not only is she an author, a PhD, and a fierce advocate for people living with HIV, she’s also a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the manager for the Office of Community Engagement for the North Carolina-Chapel Hill Center for AIDS Research, and a member of many other HIV support organizations.

“Through my trials and tribulations, I made a decision to fight and stand strong as a woman living with HIV so that I can help my fellow brothers and sisters fight and stand strong,” she says about her decision to be a leader in her community. “It has been important to me to help build coalitions and solidarity within and amongst our diverse communities to that we can dispel the myths, rid the stigma, and educate others about HIV.”

Being included on this list reminds her that there are “so many amazing, inspiring, and fabulous leaders out there doing this work,” and that the work she does really does make a difference.

Before she became a leader herself, Diggs says she had other leaders and community members who supported, protected, and pushed her, and she wants to live up to that legacy, passing the torch to others like herself. 

“As people living with HIV, it is important to know that decisions about us cannot be made without us. Our voices and input are the key to ending the HIV epidemic,” she says. “If you feel like the door is not open to you, create your own door. If you feel there is not room for you at the table, create your own table. Do not take no for an answer and make sure that your voice is heard because you are the change we want and need to see in the world.”


The above article originally appeared in Plus+ magazine as part of their November/December 2021 issue. Read more here.

UNC HIV Cure Center Awarded $26.2 million over the next 5 Years

Margolis headshot“The National Institutes of Health will award $53 million annually to 10 research organizations over the next five years to continue working toward curative therapies for HIV. The Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE), led at the UNC HIV Cure Center by David Margolis, MD, is one of two programs to have received funds for all three five-year grant cycles since 2011.”

This story was originally published by the UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom on August 17, 2021 – read more here.