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Sociology | Department News


AU Becomes Partner in HIV/AIDS Research

By Josh Halpren

Photo by D.B. King

Photo by D.B. King

“At least three percent of DC residents have HIV/AIDS,” says Department of Sociology chair Dr. Kim Blankenship, AU’s institutional representative to the DC Developmental Center for AIDS Research (DC D-CFAR), of which AU is the newest institutional partner. According to Dr. Blankenship and the National Institutes of Health, which sponsors the D-CFAR, anything greater than one percent in an area the size of DC constitutes an epidemic.

“Most people in the U.S. probably have no idea that there is somewhere in this country where rates are so high,” says Blankenship, who also directs the Center on Health, Risk and Society. “They are even higher in some sub-populations in DC. Still, there is very little research, especially social and behavioral research on the DC epidemic.”

The DC D-CFAR hopes to change this. In June 2010, the National Institutes of Health awarded the organization a five-year grant to open a DC branch of its successful Centers for AIDS Research (CFAR) program. The DC D-CFAR, as well as the twenty other CFARs and D-CFARs nationwide, are charged with developing a “multidisciplinary environment that promotes basic clinical, epidemiological, behavioral, and translational research in the prevention, detection, and treatment of HIV infection and AIDS.”  

The DC D-CFAR consists of six institutional partners. In addition to AU, which officially joined in July, partners include George Washington University, Georgetown University Medical Center, Howard University, Children’s National Medical Center, and the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Centers. The National Institutes of Health supplies administrative and shared research support to every CFAR and D-CFAR nationwide.

The DC D-CFAR’s ultimate goal is to “provide scientific leadership and institutional infrastructure to promote HIV/AIDS research and to develop the next generation of HIV/AIDS researchers in Washington, DC.” Blankenship hopes the D-CFAR will help foster collaborations between the major DC research institutions and will allow scholars to have access to a wider range of studies and resources. The D-CFAR will get five years to establish itself as a local collaborative network that will ultimately make it more competitive to become a full CFAR. There are currently 17 standard CFARS and 4 developmental CFARs including DC.

As an institutional partner with DC D-CFAR, AU faculty will have access to a wide range of resources that will help them to continue projects or develop new ones in AIDS research. “What makes AU unique among the other partner institutions is that we have a lot of people studying HIV/AIDS from different social science perspectives,” Blankenship says. “Whether that is an anthropologist studying migration, a sociologist studying gentrification, or a scholar in the School of International Service studying the ways these problems affect international relations, AU brings something very unique and important to this partnership.”

The DC D-CFAR is administered by several cores which each take on responsibility for a different part of the center’s development. Blankenship currently sits on the organization’s general executive committee, but may join the Core on Behavioral Science, Prevention, and Biostatistics, which in addition to promoting cross-disciplinary research collaboration, is responsible for training and mentoring new investigators and encouraging them “to build and/or extend their work to disadvantaged communities including ethnic/racial minorities, immigrant groups, low-income families, and sexual minorities.” The core also assists researchers in preparing presentations, manuscripts, and grant applications. Blankenship hopes the establishment of the D-CFAR will make HIV/AIDS research more feasible for those who may not have otherwise pursued it and make it easier for them to receive grants supporting this research. “This opens up a whole new world of HIV/AIDS research, collaboration, and funding to AU faculty,” says Blankenship.

In addition to assisting faculty currently working on HIV/AIDS research, Blankenship hopes that this partnership will serve as an impetus for faculty who have a lot to contribute to AIDS research but don’t consider themselves as primarily AIDS researchers. “We’re bringing together technology, biology, and the social sciences to make a meaningful impact on the field and get closer to solving these serious problems.”