For immediate release
September 24, 2015
Contact: Julie Jung, 773.702.1168

SSA Faculty Join Major Effort to Fight HIV Infection in Chicago

Faculty from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration with expertise in HIV/AIDS research are providing leadership for a new multi-institutional project to combat HIV infection in Chicago.

Assistant professors Alida Bouris and Leyla Ismayilova and professors Dexter Voisin and Harold Pollack are part of a team of researchers helping to establish and lead the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research (TC CFAR), a newly funded five-year $6.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.

Joining SSA faculty in the TC CFAR are faculty, researchers, and staff from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the Chicago Department of Public Health, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Systems, and the Center on Halsted.

Together, the TC CFAR cores and workgroups will focus on supporting and generating research and on developing community relationships that will help to bring an end to the HIV epidemic in Chicago, with a particular focus on ending HIV among young men who have sex with men (MSM), the only demographic group to experience an increase in new HIV diagnoses.

“This is a problem throughout the United States. One of the strengths of our center is that our members are already national leaders in studying the health of this population,” said TC CFAR director Dr. Richard D’Aquila, professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The Third Coast CFAR is an exciting initiative that brings together a team of transdisciplinary researchers and practitioners who are focused on ending HIV, especially among young MSM. The CFAR will provide training, infrastructure, and support to conduct cutting-edge research on how to capitalize on recent advances in behavioral, biomedical, and structural approaches to ending HIV,” said Bouris, who is co-director of the Behavioral, Social, and Implementation Sciences Core of the Third Coast CFAR. In addition, Bouris is co-principal investigator for the STI and HIV Intervention Network (SHINE) and co-director of the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE) at the University of Chicago.

The Third Coast CFAR will provide services through five cores.

  • A Clinical Sciences Core will include a data and specimen repository of newly diagnosed subjects collected in collaboration with the Center on Halsted community center and a registry of patients with HIV from the partnered university clinics and local federally qualified health centers through the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services. It will be led by Dr. David Pitrak, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Babafemi Taiwo, associate professor of infectious diseases, and Dr. Ellen Chadwick, professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Northwestern. 
  • A Behavioral, Social, and Implementation Sciences Core will provide training and consultation services and work with the Center on Halsted, the Chicago Department of Public Health and community members to provide tools for those studying at-risk populations. In addition to Bouris, it will be led by Judith Moskowitz, professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern. 
  • A Viral Pathogenesis Core will include basic science resources such as laboratory assays and services for virology, immunology, cell/virus imaging and other biological HIV research. It will be led by Yoav Gilad, professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago, and by Tom Hope, professor of cell and molecular biology, and Richard Longnecker, professor in microbiology-immunology, both at Northwestern.
  • A Developmental Core will provide funding and mentoring to support young investigators and those new to HIV research, including awards for pilot projects and community partners that will lead to new NIH research grants. It will be led by Dr. John Schneider, associate professor of medicine and public health sciences and director of the CCHE at the University of Chicago, and Dr. Brian Mustanski, an associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern. 
  • An Administrative Core will oversee operations, hold events and assemble new collaborations between investigators in different areas. The “We’re a matchmaker,” said D’Aquila, who will lead the core with Mustanski. “We’re already working with several teams on new NIH trans-disciplinary research grants, and we eagerly welcome any and all inquiries.” 

In addition, the TC CFAR will establish an END HIV Scientific Working Group, led by Voisin and Dr. Robert Garofalo, professor of medicine at Northwestern University and Director of Adolescent HIV Services and Research Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. 

The CFAR will bring together the best of behavioral, biomedical and clinical approaches to primary and secondary HIV prevention and intervention. Curtailing new HIV infections and eventually eliminating it would require developing and promoting the work of new HIV scientists.

“HIV infection is 100 percent preventable, and the Third Coast CFAR would support such efforts to enhance the HIV cascade of care to eliminate new infections. It would also support the growing HIV prevention/intervention work at the University of Chicago taking place in Southside communities ” said Voisin, who is principal investigator for SHINE, a multidisciplinary network developed by SSA to develop innovative interventions designed to reduce the disproportionate impact of STIs and HIV on vulnerable populations.

Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at SSA, is a member of TC CFAR’s Internal Advisory Committee. He has published widely at the interface between poverty policy and public health, including preventing HIV infections.

Ismayilova is a member of the (BSIS) Core Advisory Committee. Ismayilova’s research focuses on developing culturally appropriate interventions to improve mental health functioning and reduce risk behaviors, such as sexual risk behaviors and substance use.

“I think the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research represents a unique opportunity for HIV researchers as it brings together an outstanding team of experts in clinical, biological and behavioral HIV/AIDS research with an expertise in domestic and international research,” she said.