PrEP Open House

NCATEC will be hosting “PrEP Open House: What Doctors Need to Know; What Patients Need to Ask” on Friday June 29 from 2pm to 3:30pm in the first floor auditorium of the Bioinformatics Building (130 Mason Farm Road) on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.  Public parking is available across the street.

This training will address clinical PrEP basics for those interested in prescribing this one-pill-a-day regimen for the prevention of HIV.  The presentation will also cover questions that consumers would want to ask themselves about their readiness to take PrEP and whether or not PrEP is right for them.  The training center will review its online PrEP resources for providers and consumers and review PrEP materials available in English and Spanish.

Please register early as we expect a strong interest in this training.

Ryan White Remembered

April 8 marks the 28 year anniversary of Ryan White’s death.

Before HIV transmission was well understood, factor 8, a protein important to blood clotting, was often pooled from hundreds of untested blood donations.  This exposed hemophilia patients like Ryan White to HIV; in an article for PBS Newshour, Dr. Howard Markel recalls that “virtually every hemophiliac [he] treated in the mid-1980s has since died from AIDS.”

Ryan White was a teenager living with hemophilia during this time period.  He was diagnosed with HIV in December, 1984, and became an eloquent spokesperson for people living with HIV.  Among other forms of stigma, Ryan White was initially not permitted to attend school after his HIV diagnosis.  After winning a court case to resume in-person attendance at school, Ryan and his family faced intense hostility from community members, and relocated to Cicero, Indiana.

Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage

Homophobia and misinformation about HIV transmission were rampant sources of prejudice against people living with HIV; Ryan White’s advocacy helped dispel some of the misinformation about the nature and transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Months after Ryan White’s death on April 8, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Ryan White CARE Act to help cities, states, and community organizations to develop comprehensive systems of care; the legislation targeted the poorest people living in the United States with HIV/AIDS.

Student Brings Panel of AIDS Quilt to UNC

Elizabeth Trefney and her father John will see Jeremy Trefney's panel for the first time when it comes to campus in January.

Elizabeth Trefney and her father John will see Jeremy Trefney’s panel for the first time when it comes to campus in January.

As a freshman at UNC, Elizabeth Trefney remembers seeing a flyer publicizing a class about HIV/AIDS. The semester-long course is offered each spring by the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and is open to all students. Past classes have focused on how the virus impacts the immune system, currently available treatments and the latest prevention strategies.

For Trefney, the course material felt personal. Her uncle, Jeremy, died of AIDS in 1988. She recently learned her uncle had a panel in the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt began in 1987 as a way of celebrating the lives of those lost to HIV. Trefney’s father, John, says Jeremy’s friends created his panel, which is number 766. There are now more than 48,000 3-by-6-foot panels.

Taking the HIV/AIDS course inspired Elizabeth Trefney to action. She asked UNC’s Executive Vice Provost Ron Strauss, DMD, PhD, who also organizes the HIV/AIDS course, if bringing the quilt to campus was a possibility. Strauss said it was feasible and encouraged Trefney to reach out to the Names Project Foundation in Atlanta, which is the custodian of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

“At first, I just requested bringing a section of the quilt to campus,” Trefney says. “Then I learned I could request my uncle’s panel. It will be the first time anyone in my family has seen it.”

The panel will be on display in the Carolina Student Union’s West Lounge from Jan. 10-31, 2018. There will be a special presentation where attendees will be asked to shine lights from their cell phones on the quilt in an act of unity on Wednesday, Jan. 24, from 7-8 p.m.

An avid musician, Jeremy Trefney's panel of the AIDS Quilt illustrates his passion for the piano.

An avid musician, Jeremy Trefney’s panel of the AIDS Quilt illustrates his passion for the piano.

Surrounded by Love
Jeremy Trefney worked as a marketing professional by day and played music at night in Cleveland. John Trefney remembers listening to his older brother play the clarinet, saxophone and piano.

“Elizabeth plays the piano and I feel like a piece of him is still with us when she plays,” Trefney says.

John Trefney was a high school sophomore when Jeremy told the family he was gay.

“I had a tough time accepting that. It took me about six months to come to terms with it,” Trefney says. “But the experience brought us closer. And when Jeremy became sick and told us he had AIDS, we embraced him. That was not the case for everyone who was diagnosed at that time. My father would go to the hospital every day. I remember him rubbing my brother’s feet. But some people never had any visitors and they died alone.”

Jeremy Trefney died at the age of 31 in 1988. No treatments for the virus existed at that time. The field has come a long way in the past 30 years with UNC leading major discoveries in treatment, prevention and cure research.

Elizabeth Trefney never met her uncle. She and her father hope bringing his panel to UNC will put a face to the virus that still affects nearly 37 million people worldwide.

“Throughout his fight with AIDS, my brother was always surrounded by love,” John Trefney says. “We hope people will visit his panel while it is on campus, and feel that sense of love and acceptance.”

Testing Antibodies to Prevent HIV

Myron Cohen, MD, co-authored a perspective in Science about broadly neutralizing antibodies.

The journal Science published a perspective on Oct. 6, by two leading HIV investigators highlighting the next frontier of HIV prevention – broadly neutralizing antibodies or bnAbs.

Antibodies to HIV can be found in 25 percent of people living with the virus who are not on treatment, wrote perspective co-author Myron Cohen, MD, associate director of the UNC CFAR. These broadly neutralizing antibodies are now being tested for HIV prevention in the Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) study.

The AMP study will test the efficacy of antibody VRC01 in patients. Participants in the study will be given an intravenous infusion of the VRC01 antibody or a placebo 10 times, once every eight weeks.

Men who have sex with men, transgender women, and transgender men who have sex with men are eligible for the study. AMP is being conducted in North America, South America, and Africa. UNC is a site.

To learn more about bnAbs, read the perspective in Science. To watch a presentation Cohen gave about bnAbs on Oct. 13, visit our Friday Morning Conference archives.

Global Health: What’s in It for Us?

Satish Gopal, MD, MPH, center, works with colleagues in Malawi to improve cancer care.

Satish Gopal, MD, MPH, center, works with colleagues in Malawi to improve cancer care.

Satish Gopal, MD, MPH, directs the cancer program at UNC Project-Malawi. He is the only medical oncologist in Malawi, a nation of more than 18 million people. He has received two developmental and two supplemental awards through the UNC CFAR to support his research. Yet, when his daughter became sick with malaria recently, he paused to question his decision to relocate his family to a resource-limited country. In this op-ed in the Journal of the American Medical Association, he explores how this personal sacrifice is leading to important global health contributions.

NIH Increases Funding for iTech Center

Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH

Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the UNC/Emory Center for Innovative Technology (iTech) an additional $13 million to develop interventions for youth at risk for or living with HIV.

“iTech will serve as the first NIH-funded center to use technology in innovative ways to engage HIV infected or at-risk youth,” says Principal Investigator Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC.

Based at UNC, iTech includes seven sites around the US, allowing researchers to collaboratively develop the center’s health interventions. These health interventions will target 15-24-year-olds at risk for or currently living with HIV, specifically young men who have sex with men (YMSM). In 2010, YMSM accounted for 72 percent of new HIV infections among people aged 13-24. Hightow-Weidman said HIV disproportionately impacts African American and Latino YMSM; therefore, these groups will be a major focus of iTech’s interventions.

In September of 2016, the NIH awarded its first round of funding to iTech. This $18 million grant funds six initial studies. This new round of financial support will allow for three more studies.

For youth at risk of becoming infected with HIV, Hightow-Weidman said the team will develop apps that aim to increase HIV testing, and use of and adherence to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV. For youth who test positive for the virus, investigators will develop electronic health interventions to engage them in care and improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy.

To learn more about the center’s research, visit

Hudgens Co-edits Book on Quantitative Methods

Michael Hudgens, PhD

Michael Hudgens, PhD

Michael Hudgens, PhD, professor of biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is co-editor of a new book, Quantitative Methods for HIV/AIDS Research, published Aug. 15 by CRC Press. The text brings together the perspectives of statisticians and mathematicians engaged in research on HIV/AIDS.

“We hope that the work will inspire more statisticians, mathematicians and computer scientists to collaborate and contribute to the interdisciplinary challenges of understanding and addressing the AIDS pandemic,” Hudgens said.

Hudgens also is director of the biostatistics core of the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and elected fellow of the American Statistical Association. He has experience in collaborative research and statistical methodology development related to studies of infectious diseases, primarily HIV. Currently, he is associate editor for Biometrics, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society – Series B, and Journal of the American Statistical Association. He has been a faculty member at the Gillings School since 2004.

Hudgens’ co-authors, from Duke University’s Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, are Cliburn Chan, PhD, associate professor, and Shein-Chung Chow, PhD, professor.

Eron Named Vice Chair of Largest NIH HIV Research Network

ERONJoe_BWUNC Professor of Medicine Joseph Eron, MD, has been elected vice chair of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). Established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1987, the ACTG is the largest network of research sites in the world dedicated to finding a cure for HIV and the virus’s opportunistic infections.

“The ACTG is an incredible scientific group that has been a leader in HIV clinical and translational research for 30 years,” said Eron. “I am honored, thrilled and humbled to serve as the vice chair of the group and I will do my best to continue moving the research forward with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of people living with HIV.”

With the ACTG for 25 years, Eron previously chaired the network’s HIV Reservoirs and Viral Eradication Transformative Science Group. He has worked extensively in the area of HIV drug development and led or participated in original studies of many antiretroviral therapies. His first clinical trial in the 1990s demonstrated the life-saving benefits of combination antiretroviral therapy and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Since then, Eron has authored more than 300 publications in peer-reviewed journals focusing on antiretroviral therapy, resistance, pharmacology, transmission, HIV persistence and disruption of latency.

At UNC, he treats people living with HIV at the Infectious Diseases Clinic in the N.C. Memorial Hospital. He serves as vice chief for the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) Clinical Core.

Eron has received many accolades throughout his career. He received UNC’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005. He was awarded the HIV Medicine Association’s HIV Clinical Educator Award in 2013. In 2016, the North Carolina Community AIDS Fund presented Eron with its Red Ribbon Award for Outstanding Achievement, marking the 20th anniversary of his discovery of combination therapy for the treatment of HIV.