UF receives $2.5 million to support ongoing studies of HIV and alcohol use
The new funding will allow the Southern HIV Alcohol Research Consortium, nicknamed SHARC, to establish an administrative and research support arm to expand research sites across Florida, facilitate new research studies, provide research training support and create partnerships with Florida county health departments and HIV clinics.
“The ultimate goal of our work is to implement research findings in clinical and public health settings, help people reduce high-risk alcohol consumption and improve health outcomes in persons with HIV infection,” said consortium administrative director Robert Cook, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of epidemiology and medicine at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine. “This will help us directly address a major public health issue in Florida by maximizing research productivity, enhancing collaborations and supporting new researchers.”
Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are ranked first and second, respectively, in the U.S. in terms of HIV infection rates per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Florida Department of Health study of HIV occurrence in the state found that nearly 20 percent of African-American men who have sex with men are living with HIV/AIDS.
HIV infection also is an issue in rural areas as well as for older adults, said Cook, a member of the Florida Consortium for HIV/AIDS, a state network of clinicians and researchers organized by the nonprofit The AIDS Institute. Over the past 10 years, the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Florida has increased the most among residents age 50 and older.
“The AIDS Institute and the Florida Consortium for HIV/AIDS Research are excited that one of their members has successfully expanded the capacity of HIV-related research in Florida,” said Michael Ruppal, executive director of The AIDS Institute. “This important project will help all of us better understand the multilevel intersections of alcohol and its impact on HIV disease. We are all particularly elated at the prospect of working together to support Dr. Cook and his team of researchers to further advance our understanding and knowledge of such a complex infectious disease and public health threat.”
The Southern HIV Alcohol Research Consortium was established in 2011 to bring together research teams at the University of Florida, Florida International University, the University of Miami and Rush University in Chicago that are conducting National Institutes of Health-funded research on alcohol consumption in people with HIV. “Dr. Cook is one of the few ‘M.D.’ infectious disease epidemiologists in the country with the skill to lead such a consortium,” said Linda Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair of the department of epidemiology and associate dean for research and planning in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “His important work with these vulnerable populations makes us proud.”
Previous studies have shown that 20 to 30 percent of women with HIV and 50 percent of men with HIV consume high-risk levels of alcohol. Such behaviors can lead to adverse health effects such as lower medication adherence and increased risky sexual behavior, and, as a result, higher levels of HIV virus in the body and more rapid disease progression. Cook, who is affiliated with the UF division of general internal medicine and the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, leads a study to evaluate whether a prescription medication used to curb alcohol cravings can help women with HIV reduce their alcohol consumption and improve their overall health. Maria Jose Miguez, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the School of Integrated Science and Humanity at Florida International University, is examining possible connections between alcohol consumption, cholesterol and serious long-term health outcomes in women with HIV infection. In a third study, Seema Desai, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Rush University, is investigating the direct effects of alcohol consumption on the immune system over time. Together, the three studies are supported by $5 million in funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Other UF consortium members include Babette Brumback, Ph.D., an associate professor of biostatistics; Jeffrey Harman, Ph.D., an associate professor and the Louis C. and Jane Gapenski Term Professor of Health Services Administration; and Catherine Price, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical and health psychology.
The new administrative and research program will support the three ongoing consortium studies and facilitate new projects. Researchers will have access to resources such as central data management, statistical analysis services, pharmaceutical and laboratory support and new participant populations that more fully represent Florida’s diverse population. The administrative core also will fund research training and mentoring opportunities.
“Over the next five years, we expect the SHARC will become one of the premier HIV/alcohol research groups in the U.S. and represent an outstanding example for quality clinical trials research involving high-risk alcohol use and HIV infection,” Cook said.