June 28, 2021–BRONX, NY–International organizations and countries around the world are working to eliminate HIV/AIDS by 2030. To reach this goal, new approaches are needed–particularly among difficult-to-reach groups such as people who inject drugs (PWID), who are 30 times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS compared with the general population.
Matthew Akiyama, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an internist at Montefiore Health System, is one of only two recipients of a one-year, $2.5 million HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which will fund his efforts to use advanced genetic epidemiological tools to curb infection among PWID. The NIDA award is part of the National Institute of Health’s Director’s Pioneer Awards program.
“We expect this study to provide essential information for policy makers and researchers who need to focus their limited resources on the most effective strategies for preventing the spread of HIV among PWID,” said Dr. Akiyama.
Targeting Difficult-To-Reach Groups
Ending the HIV epidemic requires engaging PWID. While new HIV infections among adults declined by 14% worldwide between 2011 and 2017, no decrease has occurred among PWID. They also bear a disproportionately high burden of other blood-borne, virus-caused diseases, including hepatitis C. Harm reduction services, such as needle and syringe exchange programs and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, help reduce the spread of infection in this group, but implementing such services in low- and middle-income countries is difficult.
Dr. Akiyama’s project aims to identify PWID who are central to hepatitis C transmission networks in Kenya, East Africa, using computerized models. Since many people with hepatitis C are co-infected with HIV, this approach can be applied to both viral infections.
Tracking the Viral Evolution
Researchers will assess the evolving genetic makeup of hepatitis C as the virus spreads through groups of people. By sequencing many samples of the virus, researchers can identify those people who are “hubs” of infection in their network.
The investigators will also develop models to show how the wider population benefits if these central players receive treatment, disrupting the transmission of hepatitis C and HIV.
The grant is titled “Leveraging HCV Phylogenetic Networks to Prevent HIV and Other Blood Borne Infections Among People Who Inject Drugs” (1DP2DA053730).
About Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Albert Einstein College of Medicine is one of the nation’s premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2020-21 academic year, Einstein is home to 721 M.D. students, 178 Ph.D. students, 109 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 265 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 1,900 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2020, Einstein received more than $197 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Its partnership with Montefiore, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Einstein runs one of the largest residency and fellowship training programs in the medical and dental professions in the United States through Montefiore and an affiliation network involving hospitals and medical centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and on Long Island. For more information, please visit einsteinmed.org, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and view us on YouTube.
About Montefiore Health System
Montefiore Health System is one of New York’s premier academic health systems and is a recognized leader in providing exceptional quality and personalized, accountable care to approximately three million people in communities across the Bronx, Westchester and the Hudson Valley. It is comprised of 11 hospitals, including the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and close to 200 outpatient care sites. The advanced clinical and translational research at its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, directly informs patient care and improves outcomes. From the Montefiore-Einstein Centers of Excellence in cancer, cardiology and vascular care, pediatrics, and transplantation, to its preeminent school-based health program, Montefiore is a fully integrated healthcare delivery system providing coordinated, comprehensive care to patients and their families. For more information please visit http://www.
Elaine Iandoli, Science Media Relations Manager