Gates Foundation awards UNC Global Women’s Health $6.2 million to study pregnancy outcomes in Zambia

UNC Global Women’s Health has received two new grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for work on pregnancy outcomes in Zambia. The first grant funds the “Multi-omics for Mother and Infants (MOMI) Consortium,” which seeks to identify new predictive biomarkers for preterm birth, preeclampsia, stillbirth and fetal growth restriction. UNC Project-Zambia is one of six international sites to receive this funding. The second grant, “Antenatal-Postnatal Research Collective (ARC),” will expand UNC’s partnership with the University of Zambia to conduct prospective clinical research in pregnancy. The team will recruit 5,000 households in Lusaka into a community-based cohort and follow women from the preconceptional period through conception, gestation, delivery, and postpartum. Biological samples from the ARC cohort will be made available to the MOMI study, and participants enrolled in the ARC cohort will be offered participation in future interventional trials.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been critical to our pregnancy outcomes research in Zambia, and we could not be more grateful for this new support,” says Jeffrey Stringer, MD, FACOG, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of UNC Global Women’s Health. “Our group is committed to reducing the unacceptable burden of adverse birth outcomes faced by women living in the Global South. These new grants will support new research and further solidify our partnership with the University of Zambia.”

“This support from the Gates Foundation allows our partnership in Zambia to pursue exciting new innovations in pregnancy research,” says Myron Cohen, MD, director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. “We are grateful for the Foundation’s continuing support, which strengthens the Institute’s capacity as a leader in global women’s health.”

With these new awards, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $27 million in the UNC-Zambia site over the past 3 years. The team is also working on developing new technologies to bring obstetric ultrasound to the primary care level and to improve intrapartum monitoring of laboring women with wearable sensors. This portfolio of grants, combined with resources from the National Institutes of Health, UNC’s Center for AIDS Research, and the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, creates a world-class pregnancy research center working in a setting where adverse outcomes are common.”

These project are part of the UNC CFAR International Core efforts. Dr. Stringer is the Director of the the International Core, and Dr. Cohen is Associate Director of the CFAR and CFAR International Core. 

This story was originally published by the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases on December 9, 2020. 

Three UNC faculty elected IDSA Fellows

Headshots of JK, AL, CHThe Infectious Diseases Society of America has elected Joseph Eron, MD; Anne Lachiewicz, MD, MPH; and Christopher Hurt, MD, to its latest group of Fellows of IDSA. This Fellowship in IDSA is the highest honor in the field of infectious diseases and is given to those who have achieved professional excellence and provided significant service to the profession. 

Eron is a professor of medicine, chief of UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases, and a global leader in HIV research. He serves as vice chair and co-principal investigator of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, the world’s largest and longest running HIV clinical trials network, and leads UNC’s AIDS Clinical Trials Unit with four sites in North Carolina, Malawi, and Vietnam. He directs the UNC CFAR Clinical Core. Lachiewicz is an associate professor of medicine, director of the Immunocompromised Host Fellowship Program, and infectious diseases specialist. Christopher Hurt is an associate professor of medicine, director of the North Carolina HIV Training and Education Center, and co-leader of UNC’s Center for AIDS Research’s PrEP Scientific Working Group.

Applicants for IDSA Fellowship are nominated by their peers and meet specified criteria that include continuing identification with the field of infectious diseases, national or regional recognition, and publication of their scholarly work. Nominees are reviewed and elected by the IDSA Board of Directors. Fellows of IDSA work in many different settings, including clinical practice, teaching, research, public health and health care administration.

See full list of new IDSA fellows here.

Read more at the IGHID website here. 

Tonia Poteat, PhD, featured as December 2020 SGM Health Researcher Spotlight

TP headshotDr. Tonia Poteat, PhD, MPH, PA-C, DFAAPA, is featured this month as the December 2020 SGM (Sexual & Gender Minority) Health Researcher Spotlight.

See below for highlights and read the full interview here on the SGMRO website. 

“Q: What organizational challenges have you faced?
A: As one of the earlier researchers in transgender health, it was initially hard to get funders to pay attention to the unique research needs of this community. I’m happy to see that has changed with time and lots of advocacy by many people over the years.

Q: What advice do you have for trainees and researchers who want to work in this area or are interested in applying for NIH funding?
A: I recommend always engaging and partnering with community members and/or community organizations. They can help guide your research so that you are addressing issues that really matter to the people most affected by them. As for NIH funding, finding mentors with experience writing NIH grants and time to provide detailed feedback is invaluable. And persist! It can take multiple submissions before you get funding, but if you believe in your project, don’t give up.

Q: Do you have any specific advice for working with and involving SGM populations in research?
A: Be trustworthy, dependable, and truly care about the people involved in your research studies. It will come through in your work and make it better.

Q: Who inspires you?
A: In the research world, I am deeply inspired by the work of Lisa Bowleg and the work of Nancy Krieger. In the non-research world, my mother inspires me to continue to grow and learn and do my part to build a better future.

The Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office (SGMRO) Researcher Spotlight web feature was launched in June 2020. These spotlights highlight both successful early and established NIH-funded investigators in the field of SGM health research. This feature is in an interview format, and explores pathways to and provides guidance for building a successful career in this field of inquiry.

Dr. Poteat is an Assistant Professor of Social Medicine at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC), core faculty in the UNC Center for Health Equity Research, clinical preceptor for the Gender Affirming Clinic at UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition, and a Physician Assistant in the UNC Infectious Diseases Clinic. Her research, teaching, and clinical practice focus on HIV and LGBTQ health with particular attention to the role of intersectional stigma in driving health disparities.

Dr. Poteat previously served as a member of the Sexual and Gender Minority Research Working Group of the NIH Council of Councils.”

NIH Re-Funds ACTG for the Next Seven Years

The AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network has been re-funded for the next seven years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The ACTG is the largest global HIV research network. Dr. Joe Eron, UNC CFAR Clinical Core Director, is vice chair of the ACTG. 

“Founded in 1987, the ACTG was the first clinical trial network to focus on HIV. Its mission is to cure HIV and reduce the burden of disease due to HIV and its complications, including tuberculosis and viral hepatitis. Over the course of 2020, in addition to this work, ACTG has also been leading efforts to identify effective treatments for early COVID-19 by conducting the ACTIV-2 study.”

Read more from the ACTG Press Release here, published November 30, 2020. 

UNAIDS releases World AIDS Day report 2020 – Prevailing against pandemics by putting people at the centre

Five years after a global commitment to Fast-Track the HIV response and end AIDS by 2030, the world is off track. A promise to build on the momentum created in the first decade of the twenty-first century by front-loading investment and accelerating HIV service provision has been fulfilled by too few countries.

In [this] new report, UNAIDS is calling on countries to make far greater investments in global pandemic responses and adopt a new set of bold, ambitious but achievable HIV targets. If those targets are met, the world will be back on track to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.” 

ACTG honors David Wohl, MD, with first Charles van der Horst Humanitarian Award

ACTG names second new award for former UNC neurology professor, Kevin Robertson.

DW and CVdH

David Wohl, left, takes a break while cycling with his former colleague and mentor, Charlie van der Horst

“The national AIDS Clinical Trials Group expanded its annual recognition program in 2020 with two new awards named for University of North Carolina faculty members who died in 2019: Charles van der Horst, MD, an infectious diseases physician and researcher, and Kevin Robertson, PhD, a professor of neurology and director of UNC’s AIDS Neurological Center.” Dr. van der Horst was the CFAR Developmental Core Director and Dr. Robertson was an active member of the CFAR community. 

“ACTG presented David Wohl, MD, a UNC infectious diseases physician and researcher, with its first Charles van der Horst Humanitarian Award.” Dr. Wohl is an investigator with the CFAR Clinical Core. “‘This award recognizes an ACTG member who exemplifies the ideals that informed Charlie’s life as an unwavering social justice advocate who dedicated his career to promoting universal access to HIV research, treatment and care regardless of setting, wealth or privilege,’ said Joseph Eron, MD, vice chair of the ACTG and chief of UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases, in presenting the award to Wohl. Van der Horst died in June 2019 during an endurance swimming event in New York’s Hudson River.

‘David, like Charlie, is a force, and like Charlie, has boundless energy. David is always thinking, ‘Is this just?’ ‘Is this equitable?’ about everything we do,’ Eron said. In addition to Wohl’s extensive HIV work, Eron said, most recently he has been involved in UNC’s Covid response with initiatives that include taking testing out to rural counties that have been hit hard by the SARS-Co-2 virus. ‘His leadership in integrating the community into our studies has been masterful. His ability to incorporate people and to truly hear them has been very Charlie like.’

Wohl said he is grateful and humbled to be given an award named for his mentor. ‘I see this award as not so much about achievement but a reminder of the need to move forward and follow Charlie’s enduring example,’ he said. ‘I hope that everyone who receives it will take it as a message to do what Charlie always pushed us to do, which is to do better, be a better clinician, or researcher, or activist, or advocate, or colleague, or partner, or parent, or role model. Be a better person, just like Charlie.’

head shot of kevin robertson

Former neurology professor Kevin Robertson, PhD

The Kevin Robertson Memorial award honors the UNC neurologist who died in June 2019 after a long battle with cancer. Robertson was ‘unflappable, persistent, and remarkably dedicated to his work,’ said Judith Currier, MD, MSc, chair of ACTG. The award honors investigators who ‘exemplify Kevin’s compassion, collegiality, and commitment to junior investigators.’

Currier presented the award to Serena Spudich, MD, professor of neurology and chief of Neurological Infections & Global Neurology at Yale University. Spudich said Robertson was the person who first encouraged her to join ACTG and later to serve as vice chair of its neurology committee. ‘He believed in other people, he saw the best in other people,’ Spudich said. ‘He had a graciousness, he respected and cared for everyone’s opinions, which is why he was such a successful investigator. Many of us felt like we had a special light shining on us from knowing Kevin.'”

This story first appeared November 24, 2020 on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.

CFAR Directors recognized in 2020 Global Highly Cited Researchers List

“Twenty-one UNC School of Medicine and 16 other UNC-Chapel Hill researchers have been named in Clarivate’s 2020 list of Highly Cited Researchers™, scientific pioneers from around the world whose names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science™ citation index.”

This includes Myron Cohen, MD, UNC CFAR Associate Director and International Core Associate Director, and Stephen Cole, Biostatistics Core Associate Director.

Read more and see the full list of UNC researchers here at the UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom. 

‘Major advance’: Long-acting injectable more effective than daily pill in preventing HIV

HPTN084“A long-acting injectable drug, cabotegravir, is safe and more effective than a daily pill in preventing HIV acquisition, according to results from a study of 3,127 cisgender women in sub-Saharan Africa. Led by UNC researchers beginning in November 2017, the study showed such promising results that a review board recommended ending the blinded phase of the trial early and sharing the results.

‘After years of evaluating HIV prevention strategies for women, I am thrilled that we have found CAB LA so effectively reduces HIV acquisition and provides women more choices in how to protect themselves,’ says Mina Hosseinipour, MD, HPTN 084 co-chair and scientific director of UNC Project-Malawi in Lilongwe, Malawi.”

Many UNC CFAR investigators, including Dr. Hosseinipour, and the CFAR’s international site with UNC Project-Malawi were involved with this study. 

This story first appeared November 10, 2020 on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.

Promising COVID-19 drug is part of global study being led by UNC researchers

Rise Above COVID is a movement to find medicines for COVID-19 through the ACTIV-2 Study, a study for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 6 days. David Wohl, MD, is vice-chair of ACTIV-2, which is sponsored by the NIH with UNC CFAR researchers Joseph Eron, MD, and William Fischer, MD, as co-investigators. CFAR investigators are deeply involved in UNC’s COVID-19 response. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the emergency use of bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody developed by Eli Lilly to treat mild to moderate COVID-19.

“Bamlanivimab is one of the drugs that Wohl and a team of researchers are studying through the ACTIV-2 clinical trial. The trial is enrolling at over 60 U.S. sites and will soon expand globally, including Brazil, Peru, and South Africa. Begun in September, ACTIV-2 is now studying 300 participants, including 30 at UNC. Throughout the long-running study, investigators will add and remove promising treatments as they become available. The goal is to develop a treatment that prevents the virus from developing into a severe illness requiring hospitalization.

This story first appeared November 16, 2020 on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.

HIVMA names Adimora 2020 clinical educator of the year

ada adimora headshotThe HIV Medicine Association, or HIVMA, has honored UNC infectious diseases professor Ada Adimora, MD, MPH, with its 2020 Clinical Educator Award. The award, presented during the annual IDWeek conference, recognizes Adimora’s “extraordinary contributions to advancing clinical education, with a focus on disseminating her research on the drivers of HIV-related racial disparities.”

Dr. Adimora is the Co-Director of the UNC CFAR. She is the Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor in UNC School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her research focuses on the epidemiology of STDs and HIV in women and under-served populations in order to reduce transmission rates using community-based approaches. In 2019, she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. She joined the UNC infectious diseases faculty in 1993.

Read more here on the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases website.