NIH Funds First National Research Network to Focus on HIV-Infected & At-Risk Youth

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has provided funding of $24 million this year to the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions, the first clinical research group that will focus on youth infected by HIV.

Every year, 1.2 million adults, ranging from the ages of 15 to 24, are diagnosed with HIV worldwide; this means that young adults account for almost half (45%) of the new diagnoses of HIV each year. In addition, many of these young individuals are not aware that they are infected. In order to address this problem, this year the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have provided $24 million in funding to the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN), the first national research network that will focus on HIV-infected and at-risk youth, according to a press release.

The network co-director and medical officer at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Bill G. Kapogiannis, MD, said, “Most new HIV infections occur in young people. Many in this population go a long time before they find out they have HIV and often do not get the care they need.”

Without the proper care, the virus can result in serious health consequences and infected individuals can unknowingly transmit the virus to others. The ATN aims to work independently as well as in a collaborative effort with other researchers in the network, to conduct research that specifically pertains to young adults infected with the virus. According to the ATN’s official website, when looking at this particular population, the main focus of their studies does not lie so much in the development of antiretroviral treatment, but in prevention efforts. The areas that will be covered in the ATN’s research include: therapeutics, behavior, and community prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many prevention challenges concerning young individuals infected with HIV, among them is insufficient education on sex in school systems. By looking at data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System in 2013, the CDC found that much of the education within school curriculums were not relatable to young men who were gay or bisexual. In addition, they found that low testing and low condom-use rates were also large problems; of the high schoolers who reported being sexually active, only 22% had been tested for the virus and 41% of them reported not having used protection during the last time they had sexual intercourse. Lastly, the CDC mentions that substance abuse is also an issue; of those who were sexually active, 22% of them had used drugs or drunk alcohol before they had sexual intercourse.

According to the ATN website, “Studies on all three prevention levels should be interdisciplinary collaborations to address the complexity of the population and co-occurring health problems, such as sexually transmitted disease infection, alcohol and substance abuse (including levels and patterns of use), and mental, psychiatric and neurocognitive disorders.”

When speaking of these preventive efforts, Sonia Lee, PhD, network co-director and program officer at NCHD, said, “Many at-risk youth are not aware that they need HIV and STI testing or prevention services. ATN studies will focus on helping this population engage with available services and avoid behaviors that increase the risk of HIV infection.”

The ATN consists of three research centers headed by experienced investigators: the first is led by Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles; the second is led by Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Patrick Sullivan, MD, Emory University, Atlanta; the third is led by Sylvie Naar-King, PhD, at Wayne State University, Detroit, Bonita Stanton, PhD from Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey, and Jeffrey Parsons, PhD at Hunter College, New York City. In addition, a data coordinating center led by Myra Carpenter, PhD, and Michael Hudgens, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, will “serve as the central resource for network communications, cataloguing of biosamples, and data management,” according to the press release.