February 18, 2000

NIH grant to boost AIDS clinical trials efforts

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Dr. David Haas

NIH grant to boost AIDS clinical trials efforts

AIDS treatment and research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center will receive a big boost thanks to a multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The Vanderbilt Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Center will now be funded as a main unit of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-sponsored Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group (AACTG) placing it in the largest AIDS clinical trials network in the world.

“This grant will allow investigators at Vanderbilt to be more integrally involved with other investigators nationwide. Most of the leading AIDS clinical researchers in the country are members of the Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group so we see this as a major step forward in expanding and advancing AIDS/HIV research at Vanderbilt,” said Dr. David W. Haas, associate professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases and director of the Vanderbilt Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

The announcement of the grant puts VUMC in a group of 32 Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Units across the country and places it on the cutting edge of HIV therapeutics. The funding enables the network of centers to conduct studies of antiviral interventions, methods to reconstitute the immune system damaged by HIV, and the treatment and prevention of opportunistic diseases and other HIV-related complications.

“Total funding to Vanderbilt will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million the first year, and should increase substantially over the five years of the grant,” he said.

“What having an adult AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Vanderbilt allows us to do is to bring the latest research protocols to patients in the Middle Tennessee area that will allow them to participate in very important studies that will define optimal therapy of HIV,” he said.

The grant will allow the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit to continue a three-way collaborative effort that will also include a Pharmacology Support Lab headed by Dr. Alastair J.J. Wood, assistant vice chancellor for Research, and the Comprehensive Care Center, Nashville’s community AIDS/HIV treatment clinic headed by Dr. Stephen P. Raffanti, associate professor of Medicine in Infectious Diseases and medical director of the Comprehensive Care Center.

“One of the real strengths of Vanderbilt that made it an attractive unit to add to the AACTG is our great strength in clinical pharmacology,” Haas said.

“Our hope is that not only will Vanderbilt participate broadly across AACTG studies but will also apply cutting-edge clinical pharmacology techniques and approaches to HIV therapy.”

The formation of Vanderbilt’s AACTG Pharmacology Support Laboratory will put VUMC in a very small group of AACTG sites nationwide to have such a related facility.

"The awarding of an AIDS Clinical Trials Group Clinical Pharmacology Lab to Vanderbilt is in line with Vanderbilt's goal of marrying our strengths in basic research with our clinical research interests. The addition of a pharmacogenomics laboratry will increase the impact of our AIDS research," said Wood.

Among the future priorities for the nationwide AACTG are defining the most effective antiretroviral treatment strategies at each stage of HIV infection, developing new ways to prevent or treat opportunistic infections, and focusing on the growing problem of hepatitis C co-infection with HIV disease. Researchers also will study the interaction between various anti-HIV drugs and seek to lessen metabolic abnormalities and other side effects associated with multi-drug treatment regimens.

Developing strategies to eliminate reservoirs where HIV lingers within the body will be another important focus. Network clinicians will explore new approaches to augment the immune system in the presence of HIV and will examine promising leads into restoring immune function. The long-term effects of anti-HIV therapeutics will be further scrutinized as the AACTG seeks to improve patients’ abilities to tolerate these therapies.

“Although we have collaborated extensively with HIV researchers around the country and have played a major role in contributing important new information to HIV therapy issues, this new role in the Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group will greatly enhance our ability to make important contributions,” Haas said.

For information about AIDS/HIV clinical trials please contact Victoria Harris, clinical research manager for the Vanderbilt AIDS Clinical Trials Center, at 936-1164.