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UCLA Researchers Awarded $9.5 Million to Study How Substance Use May Impact HIV

In the United States, approximately two-thirds of new HIV infections occur among Latino and African-American men who have sex with men. In addition, studies show that drug abuse is linked with poor adherence to HIV medication and prevention therapies.

In March, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health $9.5 million over five years to continue their work on possible connections between substance abuse and HIV infection. The work, which has officially begun this June, is a continuation of a study that launched in 2013 with a $7 million NIDA grant. The grant will allow researchers to spend another five years following up with and collecting demographic, behavioral and clinical data from more than 500 Latino and African-American men who have sex with men and who are either HIV-positive or HIV-negative and were first enrolled between 2013-2017. Researchers will work to untangle the effects of substance use (including alcohol, cannabis, stimulants such as methamphetamine, illicit use of prescription drugs and opioids such as heroin and fentanyl) on the acquisition and progression of HIV in this population.

Researchers with the MSM and Substances Cohort at UCLA Linking Infections Noting Effects, or mSTUDY, will investigate:

The project is unique in that the researchers will make all of the biological specimens and data that they collect available for other scientists to analyze.

“Our aim is not just to be a research study, but also to establish a platform that allows researchers within and outside of UCLA to have access to these specimens and data,” said Dr. Pamina M. Gorbach, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and principal investigator of the mSTUDY. “We hope this collaboration leads to more research that contributes to the development of new HIV prevention and treatment strategies.”

In the previous five-year funding cycle, the researchers achieved several accomplishments, including a 95 percent participation retention rate and the collection of over 30,000 specimens that are banked in a shared repository. The project has also served as the basis for the funding of two complementary Research Project Grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), six seed grants that support junior investigators in collecting preliminary data for future grants and two training applications.

In addition to Dr. Gorbach, the research team includes co-principal investigator, Dr. Steven Shoptaw; co-investigator/biorepository director, Dr. Grace Aldrovandi; co-investigators: Dr. Ronald Brookmeyer, Dr. Marjan Javanbakht, Dr. Jennifer Fulcher, Dr. Nina Harawa; and study director, Ms. Amy Ragsdale.

The mSTUDY is being conducted as part of the Biobehavioral Assessment Research Center, which promotes projects that the NIH has identified as high-priority areas of public health research.