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Cohen Authors Science Perspective on Antibodies to Prevent HIV

Myron Cohen, MD, co-authored a perspective in Science about broadly neutralizing antibodies.

Myron Cohen, MD, co-authored a perspective in Science about broadly neutralizing antibodies.

The journal Science published a perspective on Oct. 6, by two leading HIV investigators highlighting the next frontier of HIV prevention – broadly neutralizing antibodies or bnAbs.

Antibodies to HIV can be found in 25 percent of people living with the virus who are not on treatment, wrote perspective co-author Myron Cohen, MD, director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases. These broadly neutralizing antibodies are now being tested for HIV prevention in the Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) study.

The AMP study will test the efficacy of antibody VRC01 in patients. Participants in the study will be given an intravenous infusion of the VRC01 antibody or a placebo 10 times, once every eight weeks.

Men who have sex with men, transgender women, and transgender men who have sex with men are eligible for the study. AMP is being conducted in North America, South America, and Africa. UNC is a site.

To learn more about bnAbs, read the perspective in Science. To watch a presentation Cohen gave about bnAbs on Oct. 13, visit our Friday Morning Conference archives.

Researchers Receive $3.6 Million Award to Improve Mental Health Treatment in Africa

Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH

Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH

A collaborative, international team at UNC has received a multimillion dollar award to study the mental health of people in Malawi and Tanzania living with a non-communicable disease, like diabetes or hypertension. Non-communicable diseases are the second leading cause of death in Malawi, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.S. National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) will provide $3.6 million of funding over five years. The study’s three lead investigators include Brian Pence, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; Mina Hosseinipour, MD, MPH, professor of medicine in UNC’s Division of Infectious Diseases and scientific director of UNC Project-Malawi; and Jones Masiye, MBBS, MPH, head of Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health at the Malawi Ministry of Health.

The Malawi Ministry of Health has a Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) and Mental Health Unit, which has been scaling up NCD clinics across the country. Building off of this momentum, Pence said the team would work in Malawi’s non-communicable diseases clinics. Providers would be trained to screen for and manage patients with depression.

Bryan Pence, PhD

Bryan Pence, PhD

“We will also train providers in the non-communicable diseases clinics to follow up with patients to see if their depression treatment plan is working,” Pence said. “These providers will set benchmarks and make sure their patients are meeting them.”

The best practices learned from these interventions will be used to advocate for health policy changes in Malawi and Tanzania.

An important component of this grant includes capacity building for local investigators including short courses in implementation science and grant writing as well as opportunities for mentored small grants in mental health. “Given our experience with Fogarty sponsored HIV training programs, we are well positioned to expand our training model to mental health,” said Hosseinipour.

The Malawi Ministry of Health through the Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health Unit is promoting the integration of mental health into other chronic care clinics, said Masiye. This research project will complement the Ministry’s effort to achieve this strategic objective.

“Non-communicable diseases and mental health represent a double burden to the country’s health care system,” said Masiye. “Many people who have chronic illnesses like hypertension or diabetes also have mental health problems, which has a bearing on their adherence to clinic appointments and consequently on their medication.”

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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