University of Pittsburgh researchers are moving forward with projects improving the detection and prevention of HIV using four grants that total almost $11.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The recent awards will fund work at Pitt's Schools of the Health Sciences and Magee-Womens Research Institute and includes developing a new test for the virus in order to reveal early infection; assessing the safety and acceptability of giving monthly muscle injections of an anti-HIV drug to prevent infection; studying how hormonal contraceptions affect the risk of HIV infection; and considering the feasibility of handing out an HIV-prevention vaginal gel in poor countries.
The test to detect HIV is a collaboration between Pitt's Center for Vaccine Research, the Drug Discovery Institute and the Graduate School of Public Health, receiving a $1 million, three-year grant. With early detection comes an earlier start with anti-retroviral drugs, which reduces the chance that an HIV infection will progress to full-blown AIDS and reduces the chance that a person with HIV will transmit the virus to another person. Donald S. Burke, GSPH dean and CVR director, is principal investigator.
A $4.5 million, two-year project to develop the monthly shot is led by Ian McGowan, professor in the School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the federally funded Microbicide Trials Network and Magee Institute investigator. Called Options Now, the project aims to see if the long-acting HIV drug rilpivirine can be injected to prevent HIV infection in men and women. To enroll in the study, participants must be healthy, HIV-negative, between the ages of 18 and 45, and willing to be monitored for seven months. For information, call Rita Lisa Labbett at 412-852-0390.
A $5 million, three-year project will examine whether hormonal contraceptive methods cause changes in genital tract immune cells, which are the cells targeted by HIV for infection. Led by Sharon Achilles, School of Medicine assistant professor and Magee Institute investigator, the project seeks to understand if women using these methods are at a higher risk for HIV. It will monitor 250 healthy women in Harare, Zimbabwe, using a common contraceptive for six months.
The fourth project, with $758,000 for 15 months, is led by Lisa Cencia Rohan, School of Pharmacy associate professor and Magee investigator, to assess the feasibility of using thin-film dosage forms for vaginal delivery of either contraceptive or HIV-prevention drugs. Before early-stage clinical trials can be expanded, investigators hope to find out if the forms can be manufactured and distributed to "resource-poor" places in the world.