March 29, 2024

VUMC’s John Koethe named director of the Tennessee Center for AIDS Research

John Koethe, MD, MSCI, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been appointed director and principal investigator of the Tennessee Center for AIDS Research.

From left, Simon Mallal, MBBS, and John Koethe, MD, MSCI. (photo by Susan Urmy) From left, Simon Mallal, MBBS, and John Koethe, MD, MSCI. (photo by Susan Urmy)

John Koethe, MD, MSCI, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been appointed director and principal investigator of the Tennessee Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

Koethe succeeds Simon Mallal, MBBS, the Major E.B. Stahlman Chair in Infectious Diseases and Inflammation at VUMC, who has directed the center since it was reorganized in 2015.

“John exemplifies the wealth of talent and leadership we have across the CFAR,” said Mallal, professor of Medicine, Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, and Biomedical Informatics, and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Translational and Clinical Immunology.

“Since the beginning of the (AIDS) epidemic, we have shared a deep commitment with our constituency to advance science, improve outcomes, and see those advances benefit the broader community, whose support has been unwavering,” he said. “It is wonderful to see that vision continue to be realized.”

Established in 2003 as the Vanderbilt-Meharry Developmental Center for AIDS Research, CFAR is a partnership between VUMC, Meharry Medical College, the Tennessee Department of Health and Nashville CARES, a community-based provider of comprehensive services to people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Middle Tennessee and beyond.

Two leading HIV experts, David Haas, MD, professor of Medicine at VUMC, and Meharry President and CEO James Hildreth, MD, PhD, will continue as the center’s associate directors.

The advent of antiretroviral drugs in the late 1980s transformed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) from an almost universally fatal disease into a manageable chronic infection.

Yet HIV, which is transmitted primarily by sexual contact and sharing injection drug needles, remains a serious health threat, particularly in the South, which accounted for 52% of the 36,136 new diagnoses reported nationwide in 2021.

CFAR supports multidisciplinary, impactful team science among its partner institutions, nurtures the career development of early-stage investigators to grow the number and diversity of the next generation of HIV researchers, and pursues community-engaged research with a focus on ending the epidemic.

In addition to its research cores and administrative support, CFAR provides training and pilot funding, and sponsors scientific working groups and forums for connection and collaboration.

This infrastructure, Koethe noted, “provides the immensely talented and diverse HIV investigators across our partner institutions with the resources and support to create discoveries that improve the lives of those with living with HIV and, someday, to end this epidemic.”

As an example, an analysis by VUMC and Meharry investigators using surveillance data from the Tennessee Department of Health influenced the adoption and legalization of a statewide sterile needle exchange (syringe services) program for drug users in 2017 to reduce the spread of infectious diseases including HIV.

Recent published reports of center-supported research reflect the many facets of the HIV epidemic, from analyses of metabolic health and an intervention to improve viral suppression, retention in care, and post-traumatic stress disorder among people living with HIV, to an examination of geographic disparities in late HIV diagnoses in Tennessee.

During the past nine years, CFAR has received more than $18 million from a grant (5P30AI110527) awarded by the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.

In addition to the center’s Administrative Core and Implementation Science Working Group, the grant supports the following research cores:

  • Laboratory Science, directed by Spyros Kalams, MD, professor of Medicine.
  • Clinical Science, to be directed April Pettit, MD, MPH, associate professor of Medicine.
  • Data Science, directed by Stephanie Duda, PhD, associate professor of Biomedical Informatics.

Since 2015, Koethe has directed the CFAR Developmental Core, which is responsible for administering pilot grant awards, and for mentoring early-stage investigators and those new to HIV research. This core will now be led by Chandravanu Dash, PhD, professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Meharry.

In addition to the direct CFAR grant from NIAID, the center supports nearly $30 million in HIV/AIDS research grants awarded by NIH to VUMC and Meharry and, in 2023, $30 million in non-HIV/AIDS grants from NIH.

A graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine, Koethe began clinical fellowship training in infectious diseases at VUMC and was an NIH/Fogarty International Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Zambia.

After joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2010, he pursued further training in clinical research study design, methods and biostatistics through the Vanderbilt Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program.

Supported by NIH and the U.S. Veterans Affairs system, Koethe investigates cardiometabolic health consequences of obesity in people living with HIV, factors influencing weight gain while on antiretroviral therapy, and how HIV-related changes in adipose tissue promote glucose intolerance, dyslipidemias and ectopic fat deposits in liver, heart, skeletal muscle and other organs.

He also is committed to nurturing the next generation of investigators.

Since 2016, Koethe has served as primary mentor to 21 research trainees, several of whom have received NIH and other career development awards, and who now are on the faculties at VUMC and other leading academic research institutions, and at government health agencies.

He also is co-principal investigator of the Vanderbilt Scholars in HIV and Heart, Lung, Blood, and Sleep Research (V-SCHoLARS) K12 training program, which trains junior faculty at the intersection of HIV infection and heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders.