On September 12, 2014, the Infectious Diseases Clinic at UNC Hospitals hosted a first-of-its-kind celebration gala to pay tribute to those who have been living with HIV infection for more than 20 years.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $1.5 million grant aimed at strengthening HIV/AIDS research training in collaboration with the Wits School of Public Health at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The grant was awarded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health as part of their ongoing HIV Research Training Program. Charles van der Horst, MD, professor of infectious diseases in the UNC School of Medicine, is the project’s principal investigator.
The 2014 North Carolina HIV/AIDS Advocacy Conference drew over 150 people to Winston-Salem State University on September 6th to learn how to improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and affected communities in our state.
Dr. Jacquelyn Clymore, North Carolina State HIV/STD Director in the Communicable Disease Branch of the NC Division of Public Health, offered insights on the latest epidemiological data in the plenary session, including a dramatic increase in new HIV cases among young African-American men. She also reflected on the huge changes that she has seen in decades of work in HIV and health: medical advances that would have seemed miraculous in the early days of HIV and AIDS, and new challenges that still cost the health and lives of too many people in our state.
Breakout sessions explored an array of issues that intersect with HIV and advocacy. At the “HIV and Incarceration” session, experts from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, UNC, and the justice system discussed the parallel epidemics of HIV and mass incarceration and their effect on health inequalities. In the “Our Whole Selves: HIV, Faith, and Black MSMs” session, faith leaders and advocates from Triangle Empowerment Center and NCAAN Speaking Positively discussed the role of faith communities in AIDS advocacy, particularly in empowering Black MSMs. The Duke AIDS Legal Project and the Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative offered a session to provide updates on federal and state HIV policy and opportunities to take action. The Women’s empowerment panel convened female activists, leaders in syringe access and overdose prevention work, and voting rights advocates. The day also included time for attendees to connect with each other and share a meal.
The event was hosted by NC AIDS Action Network, NC Harm Reduction Coalition, and the Winston-Salem State University School of Health Sciences. It was sponsored by The Adam Foundation and the UNC-CFAR CODE Office, with major support from AIDS United and the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
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.”
This week marks the start of the CFAR/IGHID Friday ID Conference Series for the 2014-2015 school year.
Power and Sample Size Boot Camp
Speakers: Michael Hudgens and Katie Mollan
UNC CFAR Biostatistics Core
September 5, 2014
1131 Bioinformatics (first floor auditorium), UNC-CH Campus
The CFAR Biostatistics Core will present on power and sample size calculation using examples from HIV research. Topics will include an introduction to statistical power and related terminology, a discussion of the investigator and statistician roles in sample size calculation, and presentation of statistical software and brief formulas for sample size and power computation.
UNC CFAR partners with the clinical division of infectious diseases and the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease on a weekly conference series featuring distinguished clinicians and scientists from UNC, local universities, and other national and international institutions. The topics are varied and appeal to not only infectious disease specialists, but also professionals in epidemiology, public health, microbiology, biostatistics and other global health-related disciplines.
The conference takes place every Friday (September through May) from 8:30-9:30 a.m. in 1131 Bioinformatics (first floor auditorium) on the UNC campus. For more information, please contact the conference coordinator, Kathy James. To suggest a speaker, contact the faculty organizer, David Wohl.
For the current conference schedule, please click here.
UNC CFAR investigator Scott Rhodes, PhD, MPH, from the Wake Forest School of Medicine has edited a new book: Innovations in HIV Prevention Research and Practice through Community Engagement.
Leaders in the field who are working at various points along the community-engagement continuum, with diverse populations, and different types of HIV prevention interventions (e.g., individual, community, and structural) have contributed important chapters that outline both innovative interventions designed to reduce HIV risk among some of the most affected communities and authentic and meaningful approaches to engagement, partnership, and CBPR. Chapter authors include community members who may come from communities greatly affected by HIV in the United States; organization representatives who are providing services to members of these communities; business representatives; federal scientists and practitioners; and academic researchers who must negotiate the challenges of their institutions (e.g., tenure and funding) and federal and foundation funders who may not understand the challenges and potential successes associated with authentic engagement, partnership, and CBPR.
CFAR Associate Director Dr. Myron Cohen (Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Health; Yeargan-Bate Eminent Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Epidemiology; and Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases and Director, Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases) will deliver the 2014 Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecture.
The event will be held Wednesday, October 22, at 5:30 p.m. at the Carolina Club. A reception with light refreshments will be held immediately following the lecture at 6:30 p.m.
The Dean and Advisory Committee of the School of Medicine established the Norma Berryhill Lectureship in September 1984. The Lectureship has two essential components: (1) a Lecture to be given annually by a tenured or tenure-track member of the faculty of the Medical School and (2) a convocation of the Medical School to be held at the time of the Lecture and at which new faculty members will be recognized.
The selection of the Norma Berryhill Lecturer is meant to honor a member of the faculty whose accomplishments have added distinction to the Medical School. The convocation is also intended to further a sense of community within the Medical School. Because Mrs. Berryhill was a major champion in promoting community connections, the Lectureship was named in her honor.
The UNC CFAR is getting exciting news coverage! Our researchers Katie Mollan, MS, Joe Eron, MD, Kevin Robertson, MD, and ACTG investigators have been featured in WedMD, Harvard News, and MedPage Today for their new article which explores the risks of anti-HIV drug efavirenz. This drug appears to double the risk that patients will develop suicidal thoughts or take their lives.
Study co-author Dr. Joseph Eron shared that “Efavirenz is a very important and effective antiretroviral medication that is the foundation for much of HIV therapy worldwide.” Dr. Eron explained that “suicidality (i.e. suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior or suicide death) is a very serious adverse event that requires clinicians to actively engage patients to assess risk”. This new study demonstrates a clear association between efavirenz and suicidality.
Although the absolute risk of suicidality is relatively small, Eron explained that it appears to be persistent, lasting as long as patients take the drug. Antiretroviral treatment typically is lifelong, helping people with the AIDS-causing virus live healthier lives.
“Clinicians should be aware of this ongoing risk, and talk to their patients to assess suicidality,” Eron added. That means looking for any history of depression or suicidal thoughts or attempts, the study noted.
Good alternatives to efavirenz do exist for patient who may need to start, or to switch to, another therapy. In settings where alternative therapies are not available, the benefits of efavirenz-based therapy with management of depression will usually outweigh the risks of no treatment, especially for people with low CD4 cell counts.
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On October 4, 2013, researchers and practitioners from local academic and research institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and community agencies convened at the Inaugural Symposium on Using New Technologies to Enhance Healthy Behaviors on UNC campus. The free symposium featured speakers from the National Institutes of Health, UNC Chapel Hill, FHI 360, and RTI International presenting current research on utilizing technology to promote healthy behavior across diverse behavioral areas, with particular focus on HIV, cancer, and obesity. The keynote lecture was delivered by Dr. William (Bill) Riley, PhD, chief of the Science of Research and Technology Branch in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Plenary talks on “Past and Current Issues in Technology and Health Behavior” were given by Drs. Deborah Tate and Seth Noar of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Journalism and Mass Communication, respectively. Two scientific sessions and a lunchtime poster session focused on issues of using mobile phones, social media, and diverse devices to promote health.
The sponsors of the symposium (UNC Center for AIDS Research, Communications for Health Applications and Interventions—CHAI Core, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Lineberger Cancer and Control Program) plan to host similar events in the coming years to address emerging topics in using technologies for health promotion. An ultimate goal of this and future events is to bring together researchers from different disciplines, fields of research, and institutions to develop a network of professionals with interests in technology and health to promote collaborations and present research findings. Please view the symposium agenda and presentations by clicking the links below. If you would like to be subscribed to a new listserv devoted to circulating information on using new technologies for health promotion, or for any other information about this event, please email Catherine Grodensky.
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The HIV Prevention Trials Network 052 study, led by Myron S. Cohen, MD of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been named the 2011 Breakthrough of the Year by the journal Science.
HPTN 052 evaluated whether antiretroviral drugs can prevent sexual transmission of HIV among couples in which one partner has HIV and the other does not. The research found that early treatment with antiretroviral therapy reduced HIV transmission in couples by at least 96 percent.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The complete list of top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year was published online today.
The editors at Science, the flagship publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in their announcement that “In combination with other promising clinical trials, the results have galvanized efforts to end the world’s AIDS epidemic in a way that would have been inconceivable even a year ago. ‘The goal of an AIDS-free generation is ambitious, but it is possible,’ U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told scientists last month.”
The HPTN 052 study is proof of a concept more than 20 years in the making. “From the time the first AIDS drugs were developed in the mid-1990s, our UNC team of virologists, pharmacologists, and physicians has been working on the idea that antiretrovirals might make people less contagious,” said Cohen, who is Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Epidemiology at UNC. “By 2000, the UNC study team thought the idea was strong enough to try to prove it. “This idea eventually became HPTN 052,” Cohen said.
It would be another five years before researchers from the HIV Prevention Trials Network started enrolling people in the study, eventually nearly 2000 couples at 13 sites in nine countries . In May of this year, four years before the study’s scheduled completion, an outside monitoring board requested that the results be released immediately, because they were so overwhelmingly positive.
“Prevention of HIV-1 Infection with Early Antiretroviral Therapy” was published August 11, 2011 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Jon Cohen, a writer for Science, said in an article about the breakthrough, “HPTN 052 has made imaginations race about the what-ifs like never before, spotlighting the scientifically probable rather than the possible.”
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp said, “We’re proud that Science magazine has recognized Mike Cohen and his colleagues for such inspiring leadership in the global fight against AIDS. They are wonderful examples of how Carolina’s faculty conduct research that saves lives.”
Since their release, the study results have been reverberating throughout the policy community. U.S. and international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, have incorporated or soon will incorporate “treatment as prevention”–the strategy proved by HPTN 052–into their policy guidelines for battling the AIDS epidemic.
“While I am obviously thrilled to have this research recognized as the Science breakthrough of the year,” Cohen said, “witnessing the translation of this scientific discovery on a global scale truly is the best reward.”
The research was conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, which is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with additional funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, both part of the National Institutes of Health. Additional support was provided by the NIAID-funded Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group.
- N&O editorial: On AIDS, this is big
- Cohen receives 2011 Hope is a Vaccine Award for contributions to HIV prevention research
- New findings from University of North Carolina-led HIV prevention study, HPTN 052
- UNC-led international study shows early treatment with antiretroviral therapy prevents HIV transmission
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