March 16, 2007

Feds renew AIDS research support

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Richard D'Aquila, M.D.

Feds renew AIDS research support

Clinical AIDS research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center got a welcome shot in the arm this week with the notice that federal support will continue at least through 2013.

The Vanderbilt HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials Unit will receive approximately $1.5 million during each of the next seven years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to pursue studies of potential HIV vaccines and new AIDS treatments.

“This is another major milestone for HIV research at Vanderbilt, and certifies our place in the top tier of this field,” said Richard T. D'Aquila, M.D., who directs the Vanderbilt AIDS Center and the Division of Infectious Diseases.

“Because of the extraordinary accomplishments of our large team of skilled clinical researchers, we have been chosen to continue as one of the select few academic medical centers that will help to advance HIV prevention and treatment through these critical clinical trials during this tight funding environment,” D'Aquila said.

“We will do everything possible to develop a vaccine, and sustain efforts to ensure a long, high quality life for those already infected.”

Last June, the NIAID announced a restructuring of six clinical trials networks that focus on different aspects of HIV treatment and prevention. Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, was appointed principal investigator of the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), which conducts prevention trials throughout the world.

On Monday, the institute announced that 60 clinical trial units in the United States and 14 other countries, including Vanderbilt's, have been selected to participate in the restructured system. An additional 13 units will be funded in the coming months, NIAID officials said.

Vanderbilt's is relatively unique, D'Aquila said, because it includes the Vaccine Clinical Research Site, part of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, and a Therapeutics Clinical Research Site, part of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group network.

“This reflects our collaborative culture, and definitely helps us to be efficient and gain intellectual synergies,” said D'Aquila, the Addison B. Scoville Jr. Professor of Medicine and professor of Microbiology and Immunology.

“It is my view that we need to attack HIV on every front — every possible approach to prevention, as well as improving chemotherapy and immunotherapy.”

Vanderbilt's Vaccine Clinical Research Site is currently led by Peter Wright, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and has been a leading site for research on potential HIV vaccines since 1987. On July 1, Wright will be succeeded by associate director Spyros Kalams, M.D.

Similarly, the Therapeutics Clinical Research Site, led by David Haas, M.D., has been a leading site in the testing and development of new AIDS treatments for the past six years.

“The real credit goes to the teams of study coordinators, nurses, patient educators, and laboratory personnel led by Drs. Haas, Wright, and Kalams,” D'Aquila said.

They include Kyle Rybczyk, MSN, FNP, vaccine study coordinator; Laurie Lebo, Ph.D., research manager for the Therapeutics Clinical Research Site; Janet Nicotera, R.N., BSN, networks and research coordinator for the Clinical Trials Unit; Michael Morgan, FNP; Vicki Bailey, R.N.; Brenda Jackson, R.N.; Fred Nicotera; Jeanne Schroder; Josh Barnes, Katie Crumbo, R.N.; and Dan Kuninsky.

The vaccine and AIDS treatment sites are integral components of the Vanderbilt AIDS Center, which also includes the NIH-funded Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) project. Last fall, the CFAR received an additional five years of federal funding and was upgraded from developmental to full center status.

Another Clinical Trials Unit in Tennessee, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, has received federal funding. It is part of the International Maternal, Pediatric and Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials network.

For more information, go to, and click on Clinical Trials Units and Clinical Research Sites.