Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
September 1, 1998


Research efforts in Atlanta focusing on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS received a significant boost this 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 University, the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA) and their primary collaborators.

The Emory/Atlanta CFAR joins five other newly designated NIH CFARS nationwide as well as 11 existing centers.

James Curran, M.D., dean of Emory University's Rollins 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," Dr. Curran said.

The Emory/Atlanta CFAR represents an unprecedented collaborative effort among academic, public health, government and private AIDS researchers and clinicians. Major participating groups include four institutions within Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center (Emory University School of Medicine, Rollins School of Public Health, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing).

In addition, CFAR includes the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA), which is the site of a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Community Program for Clinical Research on AIDS (CPCRA) and Acute Infection and Early Disease Research Network (AIDERN); and the major affiliated health care institutions of Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center in Atlanta (Emory University Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University, the Grady Health System and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center). Other collaborating institutions include Morehouse University 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 Dr. Curran. The rapid growth of the epidemic, however, presents a need to foster interaction and exchange among different groups to maximize productivity. Emory already has grants totaling more than $15 million annually for research and training. In addition, ARCA has an annual budget of $2.5 million, including more than $700,000 annually from the NIH and over $1.2 million from industry and CDC.

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

Since the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, Georgia ranks eighth among states for cumulative AIDS cases (17,004) reported. In 1996, Georgia reported 2,424 new cases of AIDS and had 6,667 persons living with AIDS and 25,000 persons 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 in Georgia has gone from 25:1 in 1984 to approximately 4:1 in 1996. And in 1996, Atlanta reported more AIDS cases than either San Francisco, Newark, Baltimore or Boston.

Within the past three years Emory has recruited additional nationally respected physician-researchers who are expected to play major roles in developing new strategies to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. Mark Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the CFAR for interdisciplinary science and Emory 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. Dr. Feinberg is working to develop Emory's program for clinical trials of AIDS vaccines.

Thomas Insel, Ph.D., director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center since 1995, is an internationally recognized leader in neurobiology research. Rafi Ahmed, M.D., renowned for his research in T-cell immunology and memory cell response, is director of Emory's new Vaccine Center. Harriet Robinson, Ph.D., director of the Division of Microbiology and Immunology at Yerkes, is an internationally respected AIDS vaccine researcher and was the first scientist to demonstrate that purified DNA can be used safely and effectively as a vaccine.

C. Robert Horsburgh, M.D., Emory professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and professor of public health, is a recognized researcher in mycobacterial research. Carlos del Rio, M.D., Emory associate professor of medicine and public health, was former executive director of the National AIDS Program in Mexico. Ralph J. DiClemente, PhD., 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. Gina Wingood, Ph.D., is a respected behavioral scientist recently recruited to pursue research programs on women, minorities and AIDS.

The AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA), created in 1987, is one of the most successful non-profit community-based HIV/AIDS research centers in the United States.

ARCA forms a network of more than 50 Atlanta physicians in private practice, in addition to health care providers at five public infectious disease clinics (Grady Health System Infectious Disease Program, Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Southside Healthcare, Inc., Cobb/Douglas Board of Health Clinic and AID Atlanta Clinic) and in private practice conducting HIV/AIDS clinical trials of antiretroviral drugs, vaccines, and treatments for opportunistic infections and malignancies.

Since 1988 ARCA has enrolled almost 10,000 patients in research studies. ARCA represents more than 20,000 persons living with HIV infection. Melanie Thompson, M.D., principal investigator of ARCA, is a member of the steering committee of the CPCRA, is one of 13 physicians on the international AIDS Society anteretroviral guidelines panel and was a member of the NIH Panel to Define Principles of Therapy for HIV Infection.

Emory and ARCA already collaborate on clinical research protocols for AIDS patients through the Ponce de Leon Center, site of the Grady Health System and Emory School of Medicine Infectious Disease Clinic, directed by Jeffrey Lennox, M.D., serving 4,000 Atlanta AIDS patients, and through the Georgia Research Center for AIDS and HIV infection at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, directed by David Rimland, M.D., serving 600 AIDS patients. The Ponce de Leon Center also is the site of the Emory-Grady Pediatric HIV/AIDS Clinic, serving 60% of all children and adolescents with the disease in Georgia, which ranks 11th in the nation in pediatric AIDS cases.

Emory is a member of several large NIH-sponsored national clinical trials groups, including the Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG); the Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trials Group (PACT); and the Hemophilia Foundation AIDS Clinical Trials Group.

The Emory-staffed VA Medical Center's AIDS research center, one of four such centers nationally, has been at the forefront of clinical research and basic drug discovery since the early days of the AIDS epidemic. VA scientist Raymond Schinazi, Ph.D., Emory professor of pediatrics, along with chemist Dennis Liotta, Ph.D., Emory vice president for Research, are responsible for discoveries leading to the development of the antiviral drugs known as 3TC and FTC, along with several other AIDS drugs currently in preclinical trials.

Emory investigators at Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, site of Emory's new vaccine center (currently under construction) are involved in numerous HIV/AIDS basic science and clinical studies supported by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) of the NIH, including vaccine development, basic pathogenesis and immunology of AIDS, neuropharmacology studies and drug development studies. The NIH recently funded the Emory Integrated Preclinical/Clinical AIDS Vaccine Development Program (NCVDG), a collaborative project that includes four components of vaccine development and is expected to push Emory to the forefront of AIDS vaccine research.

Faculty members in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health have extensive funding for AIDS-related projects combining biomedical, behavioral and social interventions, including the connections between urban drug use and AIDS, prevention interventions and risk-reduction strategies for women, adolescents and families.

Through the Southeast AIDS Training and Education Center (SEATEC), directed by Ira Schwartz, M.D., Emory's Department of Family and Preventive Medicine trains health care workers who provide care to patients with HIV/AIDS.

The new CFAR awards are jointly funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) 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.

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