Long-Term Studies Seek to Improve Methods Of Curbing Spread of Virus Among Men

CUNY researchers have won two of the four grants that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded for long-term studies of how gay and bisexual men become infected with the HIV virus.

Researchers at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and at Hunter College’s Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training won separate but complementary grants aimed at reducing the spread of HIV among gay and bisexual men. Those men account for nearly two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses among males, with men of color being hardest hit by the ongoing epidemic.

“These grants demonstrate the depth and talent of CUNY’s researchers who seek to end the HIV epidemic,” said CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken. “Their parallel approaches may well lead to finding better ways to help people change their behavior and avoid infection. These grants build on the momentum generated by the recent alliance of the School of Public Health with Albert Einstein College of Medicine and The Rockefeller University that’s aimed at finding ways of ending the epidemic.”

NIH also awarded grants to Johns Hopkins University and the Hektoen Institute for Medical Research under a request for proposals “to use innovative technology to conduct epidemiologic studies of large cohorts of U.S. populations at high risk of HIV infection: men who have sex with men, transgender women, and black/African American women.” Together, the four research projects are expected to give a comprehensive view of how behavior may lead to HIV infection among different segments of the U.S. population.

The project at the CUNY School of Public Health provides the outline for all of these longitudinal studies. Christian Grov, an associate professor of community health and social sciences at the school, and his colleagues, will ask 5,000 HIV-negative gay and bisexual men ages 16 to 49 to complete at-home online surveys and self-administer at-home HIV tests. “We need to study these men’s lives in the environments they live in, not in a research environment, clinic or laboratory,” Grov said. “Given that, the study is designed for individuals to participate from their homes, or wherever they are most comfortable.”

This kind of research is needed, he said, because, “In spite of all the tools we have to prevent HIV transmission, too many vulnerable individuals keep falling through the HIV prevention safety net, and we just don’t know why.”

Traditionally, research on gay and bisexual men has focused on adults over the age of 18, “But gay and bisexual men don’t wait until 18 to start having sex.” Recent data suggest many gay and bisexual men are sexually active around age 16, which is on par with when many heterosexuals become sexually active. “Thus, we have an important opportunity to improve the lives of these young individuals,” he said. In recent years, there has been a spike in HIV infections in younger men who have sex with men.

One of the study’s main goals is to identify missed HIV prevention opportunities – the cracks that vulnerable men are falling through – and determine ways to fill them.

Denis Nash, a co-investigator and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the CUNY School of Public Health, said, “Systematically characterizing and addressing missed HIV prevention opportunities is a priority implementation issue, and critical for ending HIV epidemics for every jurisdiction across the U.S.” Nash also is executive director of CUNY’s Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (ISPH)  and an associate director of the new collaboration with Einstein and Rockefeller, a federally funded Center for AIDS Research

The School of Public Health investigative team includes an interdisciplinary group of researchers who also come from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Boston, Rutgers University and the Foundation for AIDS Research.

The Hunter team’s joint principal investigators are Distinguished Professor of psychology Jeffrey Parsons and assistant professor Jonathon Rendina, respectively the director and director of quantitative methods at the Hunter College Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training (CHEST).

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students.  College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.