Global health project to reduce AIDS targets India's youth

— NIH Fogarty International grant to strengthen USF’s research and training partnerships in India –

Tampa, FL (Sept. 12, 2007) — The University of South Florida’s global health initiative to help India build an infrastructure to fight AIDS was strengthened this fall with a $1.36-million research training grant from the National Institutes of Health.

USF Health received the five-year grant Sept. 11 from the NIH’s Fogarty International Center to create an interdisciplinary training program focused on the biomedical, behavioral, cultural and ethical aspects of detecting, treating and preventing HIV/AIDS among adolescents in India. USF will partner with Vadodara Medical College (VMC) in Gujarat, India, to teach Indian physicians, scientists, nurses, and other health professionals how to conduct and evaluate community-based HIV clinical studies for this vulnerable population.

“This program represents another exciting opportunity for USF to shine in the international health arena and to broaden the scope of our HIV research and training partnerships in India,” says USF pediatrician Patricia Emmanuel, MD, principal investigator for the project. “It will enhance new knowledge in the area of adolescent health and benefit USF and the local communities in India.”

India ranks second worldwide, following South Africa, in the number of HIV and AIDS cases. In some places in India, half of all new HIV infections occur in adolescents and young adults.

Young people are at greater risk for HIV for several reasons, including girls’ increased biological susceptibility and a tendency for risky behaviors like unprotected sex and IV drug use, Dr. Emmanuel says.

USF pediatrician Dr. Patricia Emmanuel is lead investigator.

The new grant – the latest of three NIH Fogarty International awards to USF faculty — was spearheaded by USF Health’s Signature Interdisciplinary Program in Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Disease (SPAIID) and the USF-India Center for Health, HIV/AIDS Research and Training (CHART-India).

Dr. Emmanuel will work with the grant’s co-principal investigators Shyam Mohapatra, PhD, and Eknath Naik, MD, PhD. Dr. Mohapatra is the Mabel and Ellsworth Simmons Professor of Allergy and Immunology in the Department of Internal Medicine and the basic science director of SPAIID. Dr. Naik is an internist and infectious disease epidemiologist affiliated with the College of Public Health’s Department of Global Health.

“The grant will build upon and expand the existing HIV foundation and infrastructure laid by CHART-India,” says co-principal investigator Dr. Eknath Naik.

Since 1999, USF medical and public health faculty have established several CHART centers across India to care for people with HIV/AIDS, train staff and conduct research.

“The grant is a formal recognition of USF’s progress in the global arena and a sign that we are succeeding in integrating basic researchers and clinicians,” says Dr. Mohapatra. The project will involve collaborations of scientists and practitioners in infectious diseases and international medicine, allergy and immunology, pediatrics, public health and psychology.

Co-principal investigator Dr. Shyam Mohapatra says the project recognizes USF’s progress in the global health arena.

“USF Health has undertaken strategic efforts to enhance translational and clinical research in the Greater Tampa Bay Area and has created an effective and efficient network for its globalization” say Abdul S. Rao, MD, MA, DPhil, senior associate vice president, USF Health. “The award of this prestigious grant is a national recognition of our efforts in this arena. It is also underscores the efforts of our interdisciplinary signature program in allergy, immunology and infectious diseases, which was established last year to facilitate such activities.”

The Fogarty project will draw on the expertise of USF’s nationally-recognized Tampa Bay Adolescent Medicine Trials Unit. The unit, directed by Dr. Emmanuel, is one of 15 NIH-funded clinical sites across the country providing comprehensive services to HIV-infected adolescents.

Dr. Emmanuel oversees a large team of researchers and clinicians who work with both adolescents and children — educating youth at high risk for HIV in an effort to prevent AIDS, offering new treatments, and evaluating barriers to clinical trial enrollment and retention.

A long-term USF-based training program will be offered to 10 clinician scientists from VMC — two a year — over the course of the project. Upon earning a M.S. degree in Medical Sciences with a focus on clinical research or a MPH degree at the USF Tampa campus, these Indian investigators will return to VMC to lead research projects. Indian health professionals will also have the opportunity to complete certificates in clinical research or individualized, short-term training in such topics as quality assurance, project management, prevention research and research ethics at USF and through distance learning and web-based courses at VMC.

In recent years India has made some significant inroads in committing resources to the pressing public health problem of AIDS. But, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that to curb the spread of the HIV epidemic, the developing nation must meet several challenges, including increasing the number of patients treated, improving the monitoring of therapy, caring for patients with tuberculosis coinfection, and reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS.

“We expect to train more home-grown investigators who can confront these barriers by addressing research questions specific to the HIV epidemic in India,” Dr. Emmanuel says.

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Other NIH Fogarty International grants at USF Health

Two other faculty members are principal investigators for NIH Fogarty International Center grants at USF*:

Jeannine Coreil, PhD, professor and chair of Community and Family Health, College of Public Health, is investigating the social stigma of tuberculosis, including HIV-coinfection, in Haitian populations.

Anna Giuliano, PhD, professor of Interdisciplinary Oncology and program leader for the Risk Assessment, Detection, and Intervention Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, is studying the social-cultural factors associated with Pap smear screening and the HPV vaccine among men and women living in Panama.

* Source: USF Health Office of Research

- USF Health -

USF Health is dedicated to creating a model of health care based on understanding the full spectrum of health. It includes the University of South Florida’s colleges of medicine, nursing, and public health; the schools of biomedical sciences as well as physical therapy & rehabilitation sciences; and the USF Physicians Group. With $310 million in research funding last year, USF is one of the nation’s top 63 public research universities and one of Florida’s top three research universities.