NIH Increases Funding for UNC/Emory iTech Center

Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH, is the principal investigator of the iTech.

Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH, is the principal investigator of the iTech.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the UNC/Emory Center for Innovative Technology (iTech) an additional $13 million to develop interventions for youth at risk for or living with HIV.

“iTech will serve as the first NIH-funded center to use technology in innovative ways to engage HIV infected or at-risk youth,” says Principal Investigator Lisa Hightow-Weidman, MD, MPH, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC.

Based at UNC, iTech includes seven sites around the US, allowing researchers to collaboratively develop the center’s health interventions. These health interventions will target 15-24-year-olds at risk for or currently living with HIV, specifically young men who have sex with men (YMSM). In 2010, YMSM accounted for 72 percent of new HIV infections among people aged 13-24. Hightow-Weidman said HIV disproportionately impacts African American and Latino YMSM; therefore, these groups will be a major focus of iTech’s interventions.

In September of 2016, the NIH awarded its first round of funding to iTech. This $18 million grant funds six initial studies. This new round of financial support will allow for three more studies.

For youth at risk of becoming infected with HIV, Hightow-Weidman said the team will develop apps that aim to increase HIV testing, and use of and adherence to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV. For youth who test positive for the virus, investigators will develop electronic health interventions to engage them in care and improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy.

To learn more about the center’s research, visit https://itechnetwork.org/.

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