Nelson Receives International Honor for HIV Disparities Research

News on September 29th, 2016 Comments Off

LaRon Nelson was recognized for his work improving HIV care, being named the inaugural Research Chair in HIV Program Science for African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Communities by the Ontario HIV Treatment Network.

The Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) has selected University of Rochester Assistant Professor of Nursing and UR Center for AIDS Research Associate Director of International Research LaRon E. Nelson, Ph.D., R.N., F.N.P. to be its inaugural OHTN Research Chair in HIV Program Science for African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Communities. Dr. Nelson also assists with the AMP Study, a research study conducted locally by the Rochester Victory Alliance, as an investigator.

In order to better provide integrated health services for populations most affected by HIV, the OHTN has launched a new program to promote health service innovation, naming three new applied HIV research chairs.

“Each of these research leaders has a unique vision for improved HIV care,” said Tony Di Pede, chair of the OHTN Board of Directors. “The review process identified leaders with the proven ability to work with people and communities across the health care system to investigate and implement solutions.”

Nelson will be appointed as a scientist with the Centre for Urban Health Solutions in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, where he will build on his previous successful implementation of a self-determination-theory-based public health strategy to support HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis uptake and adherence among Black men who have sex with men in three U.S. cities (Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Durham, N.C.). In Ontario, Nelson will lead research focused on reducing HIV disparities in ACB communities across the HIV continuum of care, from prevention to care outcomes, such as symptom management and viral suppression.

This is the second major honor for Nelson in Canada. In 2011, the Canadian government named him one of the nation’s Rising Stars in Global Health.

“I am excited for the opportunity to continue applying my expertise in public health nursing and HIV research to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in HIV infection and care outcomes in communities outside of the United States” said Nelson.

Sixty percent of all African, Caribbean and Black Canadians live in the province of Ontario, which is home to Toronto, the fourth largest metropolitan area in North America. ACB communities in the province are disproportionately affected by HIV. Although these communities make up less than 5 percent of Ontario’s population, they accounted for 25 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2015, according to the OHTN.

As the newly appointed OHTN Research Chair in HIV Program Science for African, Caribbean and Black Communities, Nelson will lead program science research on the design, evaluation, translation, and implementation of evidence-based interventions and public health strategies. He will work with regional health departments, community partners, policy makers, and an interdisciplinary team of scientists to implement multilevel prevention packages that are optimized to the needs of ACB communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which can then be replicated in other Ontario communities.

Nelson’s work in the GTA will start with ACB communities, individuals living with HIV, community service and public health providers in the Region of Peel. The team will help efforts to improve upon coordination and integration of HIV prevention, diagnosis and care for the rapidly growing ACB communities who are migrating west to the region. The new program will use customized mobile technology to address common barriers to prevention and care. Nelson will also develop and mentor a network of early-stage ACB Canadian researchers across Ontario.

Source: URMC Newsroom - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Testing New Ways to Enroll At-Risk Populations in Clinical Research

News on September 16th, 2016 Comments Off

When it comes to HIV infection risk, the odds are heavily stacked against a relatively small population of people who share a set of specific characteristics. Young men of color who have sex with men and transgender individuals are at “ultra-high” risk for contracting HIV, but have historically made up a very small portion of volunteers for HIV clinical trials.

To increase enrollment of this specific population in an HIV prevention trial, John Cullen, Ph.D., director of Diversity and Inclusion at the UR Clinical and Translational Science Institute and assistant director at the UR Susan B. Anthony Center, says addressing potential study participants’ biopsychosocial needs may be the key.

Cullen recently received an award from the HIV Vaccine Trials Network to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of computer tablet-based “e-screening” compared to traditional screening for recruiting and retaining high-risk individuals into the Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) Study. Cullen will test the e-screening tool in collaboration with the Rochester Victory Alliance, a local study site for the AMP study, which tests whether HIV-attacking antibodies can protect participants from infection.

This e-screening tool, called Promote Health, will ask potential clinical trial participants questions about their biopsychosocial needs, in particular, the presence of basic needs (shelter, food, health insurance, etc.) as well as trauma (adverse childhood experiences/intimate partner violence). At the end of the survey, participants will receive a personalized list of free, local resources to help them address their needs.

The survey will be given as a randomized controlled trial. Half of the subjects will be given a list of pre-screened questions for the AMP Study (traditional screening) and a general list of community resources, while the other half will receive the pre-screened AMP Study questions embedded within the Promote Health survey and a personalized list of community resources.

Cullen will analyze whether individuals from the group that took the Promote survey were more likely to enroll in the AMP Study. He will also follow the participants for 6 months to see whether they take advantage of any of the recommended resources and if their health and wellbeing improves.

“It is a hope that eventually we could use this in general clinical trials as a way of increasing enrollment – or enrolling individuals that we haven’t been able to enroll before or are hard to reach – by addressing their biopsychosocial needs,” says Cullen.

Though the Promote Health survey has never before been tested for its effect on willingness to enroll in a clinical trial, it has previously been shown to positively impact the health of those surveyed. For this reason, any individuals who are screened with the traditional method and do not meet the criteria for enrollment in the HIV prevention trial will be given the opportunity to take the health survey.

Cullen is also a co-investigator on a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute award that will assess the effectiveness of Promote in improving health, safety, and quality of life for victims of violence.

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 9/15/2016

Source: URMC CTSI, click here for online article

National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS

News on March 1st, 2016 Comments Off

2016 NWPHA Flyer

February 4, 2016: The State of HIV in Black America

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state of HIV p1

World AIDS Day Scientific Symposium Highlights Vaccine Research, Honors Students, Trainees, Community Leader

News on December 2nd, 2015 Comments Off

Original Source: Research@URMC

In celebration of World AIDS Day, held every year on December 1, the University of Rochester Center for AIDS Research (UR CFAR) hosted a scientific symposium. Guest lecturer Dan Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, highlighted that the best hope for controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has claimed the lives of 39 million people around the world, is the development of a safe and effective vaccine. Barouch outlined the challenges of developing an HIV vaccine–there are many–and new strategies being studied, including an HIV vaccine pill that was tested at the University of Rochester Medical Center by infectious disease expert John J. Treanor, M.D., and HIV vaccine expert and co-director of the UR CFAR Michael C. Keefer, M.D.

The second speaker of the day, Stephen Goff, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center, discussed his research on silencing different types of viruses. Silencing involves preventing viruses from making copies of themselves inside their host cells. Goff’s hope is that by understanding the specific cellular mechanisms that naturally silence certain viruses he can figure out a way to apply this information to HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.William Valenti and Stephen Dewhurst

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research and director of the UR CFAR presented the CFAR’s new Community Partner Award to William Valenti, M.D., co-founder and staff physician at Trillium Health. The award seeks to recognize those who have exemplified commitment and leadership in developing community collaboration with the CFAR in the HIV/AIDS research field. Valenti, the founding recipient of the award, was selected for his long-standing partnership with UR, his pioneering contributions to community engagement in HIV/AIDS-related health care and research, and his profound commitment, since the beginning of the epidemic, to ensuring that persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Rochester area receive the most innovative and effective care possible. (Valenti (left) and Dewhurst (right) pictured.)

The symposium also included a poster session with posters from undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral associates training at the University. The posters were judged by various faculty members and the most innovative and promising projects were recognized. Award winners include:

·         John Rice: Clinical/translational research conducted by a post-doctoral fellow

·         Jenneta Hammond: Basic science research conducted by a post-doctoral fellow

·         Rohit Nayak: Clinical/translational research conducted by a student

·         Thomas Hilimire: Basic science research conducted by a student

·         Shihao Xu: Basic science research conducted by a student

Emily Boynton | 12/2/2015

Victory Alliance Shows Support for Prostate Cancer Survivors

News on September 21st, 2015 Comments Off

The Rochester Victory Alliance attended the “I Support Educate Advocate (SEA) Blue Prostate Cancer Walk/Run” on Sunday, September 21, 2015 at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, NY.

The Walk/Run helps fund Us TOO International, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, committed to providing prostate cancer survivors and their families with educational resources and support services free of charge.


Outreach workers, Andrew Moran (left) and Chad Brizendine(right), are pictured above – joined by a local clown (center), who was part of the festivities.


Uncategorized on May 12th, 2015 Comments Off

Dr. Larry Corey

Principal Investigator, HVTN

Larry_Corey_2010_51_MASTERFILE_fixed_reduced size

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day 2015 marks an important milestone in our field with an unprecedented return of energy and optimism.  Several studies evaluating new vaccine regimens are being initiated in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of the US and South America.  The long awaited P5 program has begun, as has the program involving Johnson and Johnson laboratory, Janssen.  There is both enthusiasm and optimism that the milestones for advancement of these new vaccine products will occur and efficacy evaluation will be initiated next year.

Getting to this point has involved the work done by thousands of scientists, clinical staff, community advocates and most importantly, trial volunteers.  Our goal is to develop a vaccine that will make a dent in the epidemic for all high risk groups globally.  In the last few months, we have added an additional biomedical intervention; one we call Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP).  We will also be starting a trial using broadly neutralizing antibodies on a bi-monthly basis to reduce HIV acquisition, in partnership with the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN).  This AMP trial has the potential to be a landmark trial for both HIV prevention and providing a new framework for HIV vaccine development.

In his keynote address at the Keystone Symposia this past March, Dr. Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, outlined the journey we have been on toward an HIV vaccine, and his determination to find one, saying, “We do not have an option for failure.”  With an estimated 2 million new infections in the coming year alone, we know our best long term hope for a sustainable end to the spread of HIV is a safe and effective vaccine, and I can see the finish line.  It will take a lot of hard work.  It will take determination to reach our goal.  Most of all, it will take the teamwork and support of our HIV prevention community, from the networks to the local sites to the communities at large.  It will take the hard work and passion of each of us whose lives have been touched by this disease to say, we will not allow this epidemic to continue.  It will take you.


U of R Begins Trial on Potential Oral HIV Vaccine

News on March 17th, 2015 Comments Off

Published in The Empty Closet,
Article by Adam Young

Researchers at the University of Rochester HIV Vaccine Trials Unit are conducting the first study in Rochester of a potential oral HIV vaccine.

The hope is that by delivering the vaccine in pill form via the “mucosal surface” of the mouth, the immune system’s fight will be strengthened from the get-go.

Dr. Michael Keefer, Director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit of the Rochester Victory Alliance at the U of R, is one of the doctors leading the study. “The idea is that by delivering it through these capsules we get it to the place where it can create these better immune responses on mucosal surfaces, which is where HIV first encounters the T4 cells when it causes infection in people,” Dr. Keefer said.

The theory behind the oral delivery of the Harvard-developed vaccine is that the capsules can weather the participant’s stomach acid to reach the immune system at a greater depth and not be inactivated by the stomach. The main component of the vaccine, Adenovirus 26, is expected to trigger an immune response from the body that may be capable of combatting HIV. Though the vaccine may cause some “bug”-like symptoms, Dr. Keefer expects the vaccine will produce no serious symptoms in the trial participants. Since the vaccine contains no living or killed HIV, it is impossible to contract HIV from the vaccine.

The study is a “dose escalation” study. Four groups, each consisting of six HIV-negative participants between the ages of 18 and 40, will be under isolated observation at a site at St. Mary’s Hospital. Assuming the first group tolerates the initial dosage with no serious side effects, the dosage will be gradually escalated throughout each remaining group. Participants will be observed and isolated throughout the duration of the study to ensure the vaccine causes no serious symptoms and to prevent the possibility of spreading the Adenovirus to others.

“Our main concern is that [it’s] safe,” Dr. Keefer said. “Effectiveness is the next thing we want to achieve.”

In order to combat the adaptability of HIV, Dr. Keefer stated the vaccine may need to be combined with other types of HIV vaccines to ultimately be effective. The one-two punch approach may be necessary to prevent virus immunity from fading over time. “We need to get the immune response to recognize the three-dimensional structures as opposed to just the linear structures on the virus,” Dr. Keefer said.

After 27 years of preventive HIV vaccine research, Dr. Keefer believes this oral vaccine could be another piece of the puzzle in moving toward a safe, effective HIV vaccine. He is confident the study will go well and it will move on to larger studies, and ultimately licensure studies. “I could see it making a fast track into larger studies. But this is the first thing we have to do and it does take a while to move through these phases of studies,” Dr. Keefer said.

For more information about the work of the Rochester Victory Alliance, visit or call (585) 756-2329.

Source article first published March 2, 2015:

New AIDS Vaccine Comes in a Capsule

News on January 14th, 2015 Comments Off

Wanted: Volunteers to test an experimental new AIDS vaccine that is needle-free. The catch? You have to be willing to stay locked up in your room for 12 days.

The new vaccine comes in a capsule and it’s made using a common cold virus called an adenovirus, genetically engineered with a tiny piece of the AIDS virus.

It’s only a very early stage experiment, meant to show the vaccine is safe. However, if it is, it could be a start not only towards a much-needed vaccine against the AIDS virus, but needle-free vaccines against many different infections.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are testing it in their specially designed facility usually used to test live influenza vaccines. The trial, which started Tuesday, is being paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We’ve had success doing this before. The facility is very nice,” says Dr. John Treanor, a vaccine expert at Rochester who’s helping lead the study.

“We try and make sure they eat well and they are entertained. But they do have to stay in there for the 12 days.”

The reason is that the adenovirus used to make the vaccine is “alive” – it can replicate and presumably will spread in the digestive tract. Tests in monkeys show it should be safe, but the researchers are taking extra care because this particular strain, called adenovirus 26, only lives well in humans.

It’s been severely weakened, but so-called live vaccines tend to prompt a stronger immune response than “killed” vaccines.

“We have a strong suspicion that it is going to be safe. It is an attenuated virus,” said Dr. Dan Barouch of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who helped design the vaccine. A similar oral vaccine has been given to hundreds of thousands of young military recruits to protect them against two other common old viruses – adenovirus 4 and 7 – that can cause severe outbreaks on bases.

And scientists hope that using the oral route will activate the immune system via the digestive tract – something that’s worked well before with, for instance, polio virus.

Making an AIDS vaccine has been one of the hardest problems facing medical science. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS has infected nearly 78 million people. About 39 million have died, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people have HIV, and about 50,000 people are newly infected each year. Medications can keep infected people healthy, but there is no cure. Some of the same drugs can also protect people against infection but they must be taken daily, unlike a vaccine.

Doctors have been working to make a vaccine against HIV for decades, but while they’ve had partial successes, nothing has worked as well as vaccines against measles or smallpox.

It’s partly because HIV attacks the very immune cells that are usually mobilized by a vaccine, and partly because the virus cloaks itself in an ever-changing envelope.

The new vaccine was designed using a computer program that’s picked out a batch of these envelope protein disguises from HIV around the world. The hope is that it will help the immune system recognize and respond to a range of disguised HIV proteins.

As the harmless adenovirus spreads, it should activate an immune response. The immune system cells will also “see” the attached bit of HIV and, the researchers hope, react against any HIV virus should the vaccinated person ever be exposed.

Other vaccines have been made against HIV using killed adenovirus. They haven’t worked too well. Barouch hopes that using a live one will work better.

Another reason vaccines made using adenoviruses have not always worked well is because the viruses are so common. People already often have an immune response to them, so the vaccines don’t have time to take hold in the body.

Adenovirus 26, however, is very rare, Treanor says. “It’s an unusual serotype of human adenovirus,” he told NBC News. It has only infected about 5 percent of the population, he said, and doesn’t make people sick. “It does not appear to be associated with any detectable symptoms,” he said.

That suggests the vaccine, if it protects against HIV, could be widely deployed.

And if the capsule form works, so much the better. “On a practical basis, an oral vaccine would be highly desirable, particularly in the developing world,” Treanor said.

And Barouch says there’s no reason a similar vaccine design couldn’t be used to make immunizations-in-a-pill against a range of bacteria and viruses.

UR Tests HIV Vaccine Pill

News on January 14th, 2015 Comments Off

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are testing a new oral vaccine to prevent infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The vaccine is unique because it is given as a pill, unlike most HIV vaccines tested to date that have been given as shots.

The study is funded and designed by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), which received support for a Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The URMC team and BIDMC are collaborating with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which is helping to organize the study through its Vaccine Product Development Center to provide services to BIDMC grantees.  This is one of the first studies to benefit from this partnership and URMC is the only center in the world testing this vaccine.

The vaccine is made of a live virus called adenovirus, a common cause of respiratory and gastroenteritis infections. The particular type of virus proposed in this study rarely causes any symptoms in adults and has been weakened to further reduce the risk of people getting sick.  It contains a protein that prompts the body to make an immune response against HIV. The study vaccine is not made from actual HIV.

Michael C. Keefer, M.D.

Researchers hope that this oral vaccine will create a more robust immune response against HIV. “We think that an oral approach may be the way to create a more effective vaccine and I’m sure that most people would rather get a vaccine in a pill rather than by yet another shot,” said Michael C. Keefer, M.D., professor of Medicine and director of the University’s NIH-supported HIV Vaccine Trials Unit.

John J. Treanor, M.D., professor of Medicine and chief of Infectious Diseases at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital is leading the study with support from Keefer, who has more than 20 years of experience in the preventive HIV vaccine field. They will monitor how people’s immune systems respond to the vaccine and if the vaccine causes any symptoms.

The University has a long track record of conducting detailed studies of HIV vaccines, but Keefer says that this is the first time an oral vaccine has been tested in Rochester. Though the research is in its early stages, he believes the information collected from this study may help develop a vaccine that could one day become the standard of care.

John J. Treanor, M.D.

Participants must be between the ages of 18 and 40, in good health and not infected with HIV. Participants will be required to spend 12 days and 11 nights at the study center and will be paid up to $2,050 based on their level of participation. To see if you qualify for a study screening, which involves a mini-physical, health questionnaire and blood work, call 585 756-2329.

For Media Inquiries:
Emily Boynton
(585) 273-1757
Email Emily Boynton

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