NIH grant will help UChicago, partners launch research center to stem HIV epidemic

University Communications

A new five-year, $6.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will help investigators from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and others across the city of Chicago work together to slow and stop HIV.

The funding, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, supports the creation of the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), a partnership between UChicago, Northwestern, the Chicago Department of Public Health, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Systems and the Center on Halsted.

“The idea behind a CFAR is to provide the glue that brings all different disciplines together,” said Richard D’Aquila, professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “This creates an infrastructure for catalyzing new interdisciplinary grants, services in different content areas of HIV research and seed funding to help new, young investigators and those established in other fields who want to start moving into HIV research for the first time.”

Ending the HIV epidemic among young men in Chicago

A major goal for the Third Coast CFAR is facilitating research to end the HIV epidemic in Chicago among young men who have sex with men—the only demographic group in which new HIV diagnoses are increasing, at 5 percent each year.

Third Coast CFAR co-director, Brian Mustanski, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern, is one of those members active in community-engaged research focused on sexual and gender minority youth.

“The Third Coast CFAR has a special focus on reducing the very high rate of new HIV infections among sexual minority young men by catalyzing partnerships and by new research that combines the best elements of behavioral and biomedical science across the continuum of prevention to care,” said Mustanski, who is also director of the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern. “We will focus on scientific discovery and implementation of approaches to preventing new infections, increasing the proportion of young men who know their HIV status and expanding the benefits of highly effective medical care among those who are HIV positive.”

Every year, the NIH invites all of its CFARs to apply for an administrative supplement that supports early stage investigators. This year, two faculty from the Third Coast CFAR were awarded the funding: Brandon Hill, executive director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health at UChicago, and Gregory Phillips, research assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern. Each will lead research teams studying aspects of the epidemic in young men who have sex with men.

Offering research services to all collaborators

The Third Coast CFAR will provide services through five cores:

  • A Clinical Sciences Core will include a data and specimen repository of newly diagnosed subjects collected, in collaboration with the Center on Halsted community center and a registry of patients with HIV from the partnered university clinics and local federally qualified health centers through the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services. It will be led by Babafemi Taiwo, associate professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern; Ellen Chadwick, professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Northwestern; and David Pitrak, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
  • A Behavioral, Social and Implementation Sciences Core will provide training and consultation services and work with the Center on Halsted, the Chicago Department of Public Health and community members to provide tools for those studying at-risk populations. It will be led by Judith Moskowitz, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern, and Alida Bouris, assistant professor of social work and co-director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination at UChicago.
  • A Viral Pathogenesis Core will include basic science resources such as laboratory assays and services for virology, immunology, cell/virus imaging and other biological HIV research. It will be led by Tom Hope, professor of cell and molecular biology at Northwestern; Richard Longnecker, professor in microbiology-immunology at Northwestern; and Yoav Gilad, professor of human genetics at UChicago.
  • A Developmental Core will provide funding and mentoring to support young investigators and those new to HIV research, including awards for pilot projects and community partners that will lead to new NIH research grants. It will be led by John Schneider, associate professor of medicine and public health sciences and director of the CCHE at UChicago, and Mustanski at Northwestern.
  • An Administrative Core will oversee operations, hold events and assemble new collaborations between investigators in different areas. “We’re already working with several teams on new NIH trans-disciplinary research grants,” said D’Aquila, who will lead the core with Mustanski.

The center will also have a scientific working group for sharing ideas, discussing epidemic trends and identifying innovative strategies to tackle HIV as well as a CFAR research navigator to guide investigators and community partners to available resources that could aid their specific projects. The center plans to open its services, as they are launched, to any HIV researcher across Chicago collaborating with a Third Coast CFAR partner.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop the ongoing spread of HIV that is now under the public’s radar,” D’Aquila said.

The Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Science Institute provided support and consultation in the application for the grant application. Research support services provided by NUCATS and UChicago’s Institute of Translational Medicine will augment those of the Third Coast CFAR.