Thanks to a $7.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers from a half-dozen institutions, including American University, will operate in a new center devoted to clinical, epidemiological, basic and social and behavioral research aimed at ending the AIDS epidemic.
Nearly three percent of D.C. residents are living with HIV or AIDS, according to the latest statistics. At the end of 2011, 2.4 percent of D.C.'s population over the age of 13 was living with HIV, well above the national average. The rate of HIV among black men in the city is 3.5 times that of white men; rates among black women are 24.4 times those among white women.
"Our hope is that through the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR) we will be able to increase collaboration among scientists, encourage new HIV investigators, and stimulate innovative interdisciplinary research focused particularly in the D.C. area —all of which will contribute to better prevention and clinical care," said AU Prof. Kim Blankenship, director, social and behavioral sciences core for the DC CFAR.
The expected $7.5 million over five years will fund the DC CFAR to become a full center, expanding the multi-institutional effort to support research that contributes to ending the HIV epidemic in Washington, D.C. and beyond, in partnership with government and community. The center was originally established to develop a strong research infrastructure and collaborative network of HIV investigators with the goal of becoming a full CFAR.
The DC CFAR will provide HIV investigators with significant pilot award funding opportunities and mentorship through its Developmental Core, and with expanded services through the Basic Sciences, Clinical and Population Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences Cores. Two new Scientific Working Groups will be created to promote and support scientific research in D.C. on HIV cure research and HIV prevention research in high risk populations.
The Social and Behavioral Sciences Core will support research to identify how social relations, processes and structures affect HIV transmission, acquisition, treatment and care. Historically, some of the structural interventions to fight the epidemic have developed from research in the social and behavioral sciences, including greater availability of syringes and drug treatment to address HIV risk in drug users; greater access to housing among the HIV-infected, which has been shown to improve treatment outcomes; and support for the collective mobilization of marginalized populations like drug users and sex workers in various parts of the world, so they can change the conditions that put them at risk.
Blankenship, chair of sociology at AU, is also director of AU's Center on Health, Risk and Society (CHRS). CHRS has built an interdisciplinary community of scholars who conduct research that applies social science theory, concepts and methods to analyze health and health-related risks, and that identifies and analyzes structural interventions aimed at promoting health. AU is unique among other partner institutions in the DC CFAR to have scholars embedded in social science disciplines and engaged in the study of HIV/AIDS from varying social science perspectives.
"With the creation of a full District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research, American University faculty members will have access to expanded opportunities for research, collaboration and funding," Blankenship said. "Regarding the city's own HIV and AIDS epidemic, there is need for more social and behavioral research, and we look forward to increasing research to make a difference."
In addition to AU, the center is made up of researchers from George Washington University (where the DC CFAR is housed), Georgetown University, Howard University, the Children's National Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Prior to this funding round by NIH, there were 17 full CFARs and two Developmental CFARs, including the DC CFAR. The DC CFAR now joins the ranks as a full CFAR among the nation's leading research institutions. The NIH CFAR program emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary and translational collaborations between basic, clinical, prevention and social and behavioral investigators, with an emphasis on the inclusion of women and minority investigators. The CFAR program is jointly funded by the NIAID, NCI, NICHD, NHLBI, NIDA, NIMH, NIA, NIDDK, NIGMS, FIC, and OAR.
Additional content for this story courtesy Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University