NIH awards $23 million grant to study the diseases affecting people with HIV

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a seven-year, $23 million grant to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to study HIV and the chronic illnesses that often accompany HIV infection, including cardiovascular and lung disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The new grant builds on previous scientific and clinical research from the 26-year-old Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), a multi-center study of women who are either living with HIV or at risk for HIV infection. The NIH has merged the WIHS study with a comparable parallel study in men known as the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, or MACS, which began in 1984. Together, those studies enrolled thousands of participants and spurred more than 2,300 publications on HIV-related topics.

The new study, called the MACS/WIHS Combined Cohort Study, will continue using information from participants in the earlier studies and will enroll an additional 2,500 men and women, including people without HIV. It also will focus on the chronic conditions that now affect people living with HIV, rather than the HIV infection itself.

New research targets

This change in emphasis makes our research much broader and more focused on the leading causes of illness and death among people living with HIV. People are living longer with HIV because of the miraculous success of antiretroviral treatment. As a result, the immune complications of HIV rarely kill people now – rather, it's the advance of those other diseases, which often occur much earlier than expected in people living with HIV."

Co-principal investigator Kathryn Anastos, M.D., professor of medicine, of epidemiology & population health, and of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health at Einstein and a general internist at Montefiore

Dr. Anastos has led scientific and clinical research at the Einstein and Montefiore Bronx WIHS site, one of nine in the nation, since 1993. Anjali Sharma, M.D., M.S., co-principal investigator, associate professor of medicine at Einstein, and an internist and infectious disease physician at Montefiore, joined the Bronx WIHS in 2013.

"We've been among the leading investigators into several specific areas, including cardiovascular disease, human papillomavirus (HPV), female genital tract immunology, and emerging studies of the microbiome," said Dr. Anastos, who also is co-director emeritus of Einstein's Global Health Center and director of the clinical, translational, and implementation science core of the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research.

Tracking aging and social impacts on health

The new study will allow researchers to investigate the impact of age, race, ethnicity, and health disparities on HIV-related comorbidities and HIV disease progression. The Bronx site will enroll between 150 and 200 participants.

"Enrolling both men and women will help us look into how HIV and chronic illnesses affect the genders differently, particularly as people age," said Dr. Sharma. "That knowledge can inform our understanding of gender differences in health and disease across the lifespan far beyond HIV."

Study participants will undergo comprehensive annual exams and tests. Researchers also will study disease-related outcomes such as heart attacks and strokes, conduct neuropsychiatric testing to assess cognition, and administer detailed psychiatric evaluations.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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