Emory Report

September 14, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 4

Emory gets NIH designation for AIDS center

Research efforts in Atlanta focusing on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS received a significant boost last week with the announcement that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has designated the Emory/Atlanta Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) an official NIH CFAR site. The designation comes with a three-year, $2.3 million grant for Emory, the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta and their primary collaborators. The Emory/Atlanta CFAR joins five other newly NIH-designated sites nationwide as well as 11 existing centers.

James Curran, dean of the School of Public Health and former director of the AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is director and principal investigator of the new CFAR. "The development of excellent multidisciplinary research approaches to HIV/AIDS in Atlanta, the exciting research atmosphere, the spirit of and the need for collaboration and the extensive epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the region give Emory and the Atlanta community unique opportunities to exert a strong, positive impact on collaborative research," Curran said.

The Emory/Atlanta CFAR represents an unprecedented collaborative effort among academic, public health, government and private AIDS researchers and clinicians. Also participating with Emory Health Sciences and the AIDS Research Consortium are Grady Health System, the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Morehouse School of Medicine.

Emory and the Atlanta community already have responded to the growing AIDS epidemic by developing nationally recognized clinical, training and research programs of excellence in AIDS, said Curran. But rapid growth of the epidemic presents a need to foster interaction and exchange among different groups to increase resources and productivity.

The new NIH CFAR designation will encourage multidisciplinary cooperation among Atlanta's diverse HIV/AIDS programs, Curran said, as well as stimulate applications for more funding and attract new investigators to research, including scientists from minority backgrounds.

Georgia ranks eighth among states for cumulative AIDS cases reported with 17,004. In 1996 the state reported 2,424 new cases of AIDS and was home to 6,667 people living with AIDS and 25,000 living with HIV--15,000 in metro Atlanta.

Georgia has one the highest proportions of heterosexually transmitted HIV infection. The male to female ratio of AIDS cases here has gone from 25:1 in 1984 to approximately 4:1 in 1996. And, in 1996, Atlanta reported more AIDS cases than San Francisco, Newark, Baltimore or Boston.

Within the past three years Emory has recruited nationally respected physician-researchers who are expected to play major roles in developing new strategies to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. Mark Feinberg, associate director of the CFAR for interdisciplinary science and associate professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, was former chair of the NIH Coordinating Committee on AIDS Etiology and Pathogenesis Research and medical officer for the National Office of AIDS Research. He is working to develop Emory's program for clinical trials of AIDS vaccines.

Yerkes Director Thomas Insel is an internationally recognized leader in neurobiology research. Rafi Ahmed, renowned for his research in T-cell immunology and memory cell response, directs the new Vaccine Center. Harriet Robinson, director of Yerkes' Division of Microbiology and Immunology, is an internationally respected AIDS researcher and was the first scientist to demonstrate that purified DNA can be used safely and effectively as a vaccine.

C. Robert Horsburgh, professor of medicine and public health, is a recognized researcher in mycobacterial research. Carlos del Rio, associate professor of medicine and public health, was former executive director of the National AIDS Program in Mexico. Ralph DiClemente, a recently named Candler Professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, is nationally known for his community-based interventions in HIV prevention for adolescents. Behavioral scientist Gina Wingood was recently recruited to pursue research programs on women, minorities and AIDS.

Created in 1987, the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta is one of the most successful nonprofit community-based HIV/AIDS research centers in the United States. A network of more than 50 Atlanta private-practice physicians and health care providers at five public infectious disease clinics, the consortium conducts clinical trials of antiretroviral drugs, vaccines and treatments for opportunistic infections and malignancies. Since 1988 almost 10,000 patients have enrolled in its research studies.

Emory already collaborates with the consortium on clinical research protocols for AIDS patients through the Ponce de Leon Center, the Atlanta VA and the Emory-Grady Pediatric HIV/AIDS Clinic, which serves 60 percent of children and adolescents with the disease in Georgia--ranked 11th in the nation in pediatric AIDS .

The new CFAR awards are jointly funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and five other NIH institutes: the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the National Institute on Drug Abuse; and the National Institute of Mental Health.

--Holly Korschun

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