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VUMC, Meharry and State Health Department receive NIH grant to establish AIDS research center

Jun. 25, 2015, 9:17 AM

Vanderbilt University has received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish the Tennessee Center for AIDS Research with Meharry Medical College and the Tennessee Department of Health.

Simon Mallal, M.B.B.S., the Major E.B. Stahlman Professor of Infectious Diseases and Inflammation at Vanderbilt, is principal investigator of the new center, which expands the previously existing Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for AIDS Research to include the state health department.

Co-directors of the new center are David Haas, M.D., professor of Medicine, Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology and Pharmacology at Vanderbilt, and Duane Smoot, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Meharry.

Haas has directed the AIDS Clinical Trials Group’s Therapeutics Clinical Research Site at Vanderbilt since 1996. Carolyn Wester, M.D., MPH, at Tennessee Department of Health, and Consuelo Wilkins, M.D., MCSI, executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, are also key partners in the new center.

Its aims are twofold: to improve the continuum of HIV/AIDS care in Tennessee and beyond, and to advance personalized care in the treatment of HIV. First-year funding in the 2016 fiscal year totals $937,000.

Personalized care is “a huge strength” at Vanderbilt, Haas said. It refers not only to genetic variations that may affect patients’ response to medications, but to other important medical, social and environmental factors that impact the course of disease including AIDS.

Continuum of care refers to interventions provided at all stages of illness that can improve outcomes for patients. “Our partnership with the Tennessee Department of Health is a real strength,” he said.

The new center also will draw from the Vanderbilt Institute of Global Health, which has helped to pioneer the continuum of HIV care in countries like Mozambique.

“We have the opportunity to take what’s been learned (there) … and bring (it) to the United States,” Haas said.

Expanding training and research opportunities is another center goal. Researchers at Vanderbilt, Meharry and the state can apply for Developmental Core Awards, which will be distributed by the center each year on a competitive basis. This year’s letter-of-intent deadline is July 7. For more information, visit https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/tncfar/funding.

Haas said center researchers are involved in small pilot and large multicenter projects aimed at preventing long-term complications of chronic HIV infection, including heart disease and stroke, pursuing potential treatments that could one day lead to a cure for the disease, and developing an effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection.

The need is great, and much work remains to be done but, said Haas, “we’re getting closer.”

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