“Despite dramatic improvements in the ability to treat and prevent HIV, the HIV rate among youth in America has doubled in the last 10 years,” Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, director of the Global Center for Children and Families at UCLA stated in a recent article for the UCLA Newsroom. By 2020 the incidence of the disease among youths is expected to increase by 39%. Dr. Rotheram-Boras believes that if acutely infected youths were identified and treated during the period when their infectivity to others is 5-10 fold, then the medical community could reverse this trend and improve the long-term health of youths.
(Image of UCLA courtesy of Wikimedia)
Thanks to a $20 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Dr. Rotheram-Borus will lead a five-year project that aims to reduce the HIV infection rate of teens and young adults.
This project has three major components:
- Treating acute infection. Researchers will use at least four highly potent antiretroviral therapies to provide aggressive treatment for people who have recently been infected. Doctors will check patients regular to see how well their immune system is suppressing the virus.
- Stepped care. Researchers will compare standard clinical care for HIV-positive youth with more intense strategies that also incorporate text messaging and monitoring, online peer support and interpersonal coaching.
- Preventive care for HIV-negative youth. Researchers will study different combinations of support involving technology. In addition to text messaging and monitoring, young people who do not have HIV may also receive online peer support or interpersonal coaching. Coaches will use phone calls, video chats and social media to notify participants about local resources for housing, mental health and substance use services.
12,333 people diagnosed with AIDS died from various causes, and 6,721 deaths were attributed directly to HIV in 2014. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 1.1 million people in the US living with HIV and that 1 in 7 of those infected do not know it. According to the CDC, HIV-positive adolescents and young adults are more likely to remain unaware that they are infected. They also fail to adhere to treatment regimens more often.
The CDC reports that the homeless, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are at the highest risk for becoming infected with HIV. For this research study, scientists will recruit study participants through community-based organizations that work with young people who are homeless or who have previously been incarcerated. It is hoped that this project will help to prevent new infections and increase the quality of life for young people with HIV.
This project is just one of many HIV related research studies happening at UCLA, and this grant from the National Institute of Health’s NICHD is only one of eight NIH life science grants for AIDS research over a million dollars received by the university this year. Though this initiative focuses on youth in Los Angeles and New Orleans, UCLA researchers will be working with teams at several universities that are all part of the Adolescent Medicine Trails Network. UCLA is one of only twenty Centers For AIDS Research in the nation.
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