The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) will fund three sites to conduct research to increase understanding of how infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affects adolescent and adult women.
These sites, which will house the Women's HIV Pathogenesis Program, will be located at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, the Gladstone Institute of Virology in San Francisco, CA, and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL. Funding for the program will total approximately $3.5 million per year over the next five years.
"HIV infection has become the fifth leading cause of death among women between the ages of 25 and 44," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "These new centers will help us better understand how HIV uniquely affects women and will help us improve treatment and save the lives of HIV-positive women and their babies."
Each site will conduct research to identify biological factors unique to women. Such factors could have an impact on how women become infected with the virus and transmit it to others, how the disease progresses in women after infection takes place, and how the disease affects women differently than it does men. The research will involve various populations of women, including minority women, lesbians, women who abuse substances, and those who are approaching or experiencing menopause. The results of these studies are expected to have practical implications for improving the care of HIV-infected women.
"These HIV research centers will focus exclusively on women, something that's extremely important," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "Women infected with HIV have problems associated with HIV-infection that are unique to their sex, including gynecological infections and uterine malignancies."
Investigators at the University of Washington site, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Rochester, NY, and the University of Nairobi, Kenya, will undertake a series of studies to determine if other infections of the female genital tract affect the transmission of HIV. Dr. Robert Coombs at the University of Washington, Seattle, will direct this program project.
The project at the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, will be directed by Dr. Alan Landay of the Chicago Consortium for the Study of HIV Pathogenesis in Women. This project will focus on how HIV infection influences, and is influenced by, the environment of the female genital tract. Studies conducted at the center will cover several research areas including the effects of bacterial vaginosis, a common type of vaginal infection, on HIV in the female genital tract and whether substances in cervical secretions may increase susceptibility to HIV. Researchers will also investigate the role of female genital tract immune responses to HIV and how these responses can be boosted with an HIV vaccine.
The project at the Gladstone Institute of Virology, in collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, will investigate the effect of gender and reproductive hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, on HIV and on how HIV medicines are metabolized. The research will take place under the direction of Drs. Warner Greene and Ruth Greenblatt. One of the projects in this research program will include collaboration with researchers in the Women's Interagency HIV Study, a large clinical study co-sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NICHD, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
It will compare HIV strains taken from the blood and from the genital tract to determine if there are any differences between the two, whether they respond differently to anti-HIV medications, and how these responses are influenced by hormonal levels. Another avenue of research will involve the Oakland, CA, Children's Hospital and will focus on how gender and hormones affect production and loss of T-helper cells, which are essential to immune function, and are prime targets for damage from HIV.
The NICHD is one of the Institutes comprising the National Institutes of Health, the Federal Government's premier biomedical research agency. NICHD supports and conducts research on the reproductive, neurobiological, developmental, and behavioral processes that determine and maintain the health of children, adults, families, and populations. A significant portion of the Institute's scientific agenda relates to HIV/AIDS and the development of contraceptive microbicides. The NICHD website, http://www.nichd.nih.gov, contains additional information about the Institute and its mission.