UNC Awarded $19.4 million to Continue National Effort to Combat HIV Comorbidities

ada adimora headshotResearchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will receive $19.4 million over the next seven years to continue their research on chronic illnesses that often accompany HIV infection, including cardiovascular and lung diseases, diabetes, and cancers. Almost half of people with HIV in the United States are over the age of 50 and are more likely to suffer chronic HIV-related comorbidities than infectious complications. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) selected UNC-Chapel Hill as one of the 13 Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study / Women’s Interagency HIV Study Combined Cohort Study (MACS/WIHS-CCS) sites after a competitive application process.

The MACS/WIHS-CCS is a collaborative research effort to understand and reduce the impact of chronic health conditions that affect people living with HIV. Adaora Adimora, MD, MPH, leads the UNC-Chapel Hill site, one of 13 across the country.

This story first appeared on October 14, 2019 on the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom.

UNC Gillings School launches Zambia Hub

Group photo in ZambiaThe students, faculty and staff of the UNC Gillings School work in more than 60 countries to address urgent global health challenges. Now, with the launch of a new global hub in Zambia, they have even more opportunities to engage — and this is just the beginning. The UNC CFAR’s International Core worked collaboratively with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to help launch the Zambia hub.

This story appeared first on October 11, 2019 on the UNC Gillings School of Public Health News page. 

Surprise Finding About HIV Reservoir Could Lead to Better Therapies

Swanstrom Headshot LargeResearchers led by Ron Swanstrom, PhD, and colleagues in South Africa, discovered that the latent HIV reservoir that persists during antiretroviral treatment mostly reflects viruses present in the blood at the start of antiretroviral treatment.

“This comes as a big surprise,” said co-senior author Ronald Swanstrom, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the UNC School of Medicine. “Our work suggests that if we could understand the reservoir-forming process better, we might be able to intervene at the start of treatment to reduce the majority of the reservoir that forms at this time.”

Read more about this at the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom.

NC, SC Join Forces to Combat HIV Epidemic

Both state health departments and HIV researchers at flagship universities announced the new “Carolinas United to End HIV (CUE-HIV)” partnership to decrease the number of HIV infections by 90 percent in ten years.

July 8, 2019

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Health officials and leading researchers in North Carolina and South Carolina have created a new collaborative effort to end the HIV epidemic in both states. Carolinas United to End HIV (CUE-HIV) is a partnership between the State of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the State of South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, the Mecklenburg County Health Department, the University of South Carolina (Columbia), the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston), the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for AIDS Research (UNC CFAR).

CUE-HIV will specifically work to reduce the numbers of incident HIV infections in the Carolinas by 75 percent within five years, and by 90 percent within 10 years. This is in line with the reduction of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed through a new initiative to address the ongoing HIV public health crisis.

In a JAMA Network editorial, leading infectious diseases officials said such an ambitious initiative will “leverage critical scientific advances in HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care by coordinating the highly successful programs, resources, and infrastructure of the CDC, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Indian Health Service (IHS). The initial phase, coordinated by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health, will focus on geographic and demographic hotspots in 19 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, where the majority of the new HIV cases are reported, as well as in seven states with a disproportionate occurrence of HIV in rural areas.” Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and all counties in South Carolina fall into these categories.

The CUE-HIV collaborative was born out of the knowledge that HIV does not stop at state borders, especially in the era of social media and on-line dating. This cohesive approach will help identify and target cross-state networks particularly in rural areas where stigma is a driving impetus to find partners away from home in larger cities and counties.

Mission Statement:

CUE-HIV is an interstate collaborative created to address the disproportionate HIV burden in the Carolinas driven by our states’ unique intersection of stigma, poverty, and limited resource allocation. Our initiative employs a multifaceted strategy designed to promote awareness, decrease stigma, expand funding, and improve resource availability with one ultimate goal: ending the HIV epidemic in the Carolinas. We believe that our united front will prove far more impactful than the sum of our individual parts.

UNC School of Medicine contact: Mark Derewicz, 984-974-1915

This story first appeared July 8, 2019 on the UNC Health and School of Medicine Newsroom. 

Myron Cohen in The Guardian’s “End to Aids in sight as huge study finds drugs stop HIV transmission”

The UK PARTNER study published its findings on May 2 in the Lancet, concluding that the risk of infection between male partners is zero if the virus is fully suppressed by antiretrovirals. In the Guardian’s coverage of the study, they quote UNC CFARs Myron Cohen’s commentary on barriers to care:

“It is not always easy for people to get tested for HIV or find access to care; in addition, fear, stigma, homophobia and other adverse social forces continue to compromise HIV treatment,” he said.

“Diagnosis of HIV infection is difficult in the early stages of infection when transmission is very efficient, and this limitation also compromises the treatment as prevention strategy.”

In an effort to make childbirth safer, $14 million awarded to Jeff Stringer’s research team

Jeff Stringer, director of UNC CFAR’s International Core, is leading two studies to improve pregnancy outcomes in the world’s poorest countries. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $14 million to Stringer’s interdisciplinary team, composed of researchers from the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Gillings School of Global Health. Read more about this at the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom.

Eron Moderates New Video Series

Joseph Eron, MD, division chief of infectious diseases and director of UNC CFAR’s Clinical Core, was recently featured on Contagion‘s latest Peer Exchange panel. The four-part discussion, entitled “HIV Screening, Prevention, and Treatment Advances,” is available to the public here.

From the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine’s Newsroom article,

 “This Contagion “Peer Exchange” panel features five distinguished experts: Joseph J. Eron Jr., MD, professor of medicine and division chief of infectious diseases at the UNC School of Medicine, as moderator; Eric S. Daar, MD, of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center; Ian D. Frank, MD, of the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania; W. David Hardy, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Paul E. Sax, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The first segment of this “Peer Exchange” series delves into a discussion on screening and prevention of HIV. In the second segment, the experts provide a brief overview of the current HIV treatment landscape. The third segment focuses on additional considerations for therapy, such as the importance of adherence to treatment and care. In the final segment, our experts discuss upcoming treatment options that are exciting for the HIV community.”

Reducing Stigma and Exploring Resilience Among Young Black Men

In a study published on January 11th, investigators considered of the digital resilience behavior of young, black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). CFAR investigator and assistant professor of health behavior at the Gillings School Kathryn E. Muessig, PhD, participated as senior author to this study, entitled “Stay strong! keep ya head up! move on! it gets better!!!!’: Resilience processes in the healthMpowerment online intervention of young black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

The study focused on participants’ forum use of healthMpowerment, an anonymous online intervention system designed by Hightow-Weidman. Investigators analyzed conversations according to the four forms of resilience behaviors: exchanging social support, engaging in health-promoting cognitive processes, enacting healthy behavioral practices and empowering others. Their findings suggest that interventions based on resilience and empowerment may position black GBMSM to better combat negative stereotypes and social institutions that perpetuate HIV-related stigma, racism and blame. This is in contrast to preexisting risk-based frameworks that may reinforce stigma and negative stereotypes associated with this already marginalized group.

Read more about the study’s findings here.

CFAR-Wide Webinar Series: Brian Mustanski

For our January 2019 webinar, Brian Mustanski, PhD, presented “Don’t assume if you build it they will come: Two hybrid effectiveness-implementation trials of eHealth HIV prevention programs for diverse adolescent and young adult MSM.” In case you missed it, a recording can be viewed here.

Next month’s webinar is planned for February 25th at 3:30 ET and will feature Robin Lanzi and Pam Foster from UAB CFAR discussing the Inter-CFAR Faith Initiative Working Group. The 2019 webinar schedule and registration information can be found here.

Brian Mustanksi, PhD, is director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University, Co-Director of the Center for Prevention Implementation Methodology for Drug Abuse and HIV, and Co-Director of the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research. Additionally, he is a professor of both Medical Social Sciences and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Mustanski’s research focuses on the health and development of LGBT youth and the application of new media and technology to sexual health promotion and HIV prevention with young men.