Making strides in HIV/AIDS research

In April, the UNC School of Medicine was recognized as having one of the top ten AIDS programs in the nation. The eighth place ranking this year marked the third time in a row the specialty has been ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report as a part of their Best Medical Schools rankings.

The high ranking is a testament to UNC’s reputation for excellent care and innovative research for HIV/AIDS. Following the release of the rankings, Myron Cohen, MD, director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, dedicated his monthly Global Health Update column to explaining this recognition, which involved, in his words, “no small amount of bragging.” According to him, there are plenty of things going on in the specialty that are well-worth bragging about.

Here are a few of those things, as explained by Cohen:

“UNC’s success in this arena is due to the breadth of our program, the quality and long-term commitment of our faculty and staff and the exceptional bravery of our patients and research subjects in North Carolina and around the world.

UNC is in the midst of a full-scale attack on the disease.  Our faculty troops are tackling questions of clinical care and management of HIV patients as well as basic science.  Perhaps most importantly, our faculty pursue projects that translate research discoveries into medical, public health and policy actions. 

The National Institutes of Health sponsors 20 Centers for AIDS Research around the country.  The UNC CFAR, now well into its second decade, is committed to generating new ideas about HIV treatment and prevention.  Through a collection of cores, including clinical, immunological and pharmacological, among others, the center promotes synergy among faculty from across the campus, in the Triangle, across the state and around the world.  We may compete fiercely against Duke on the basketball court, but some of our most successful and productive HIV research collaborations are with our neighbors up 15-501.

Another strength of UNC’s HIV/AIDS program is our vigorous international research and clinical care.  We cannot ignore the fact that 80 percent of people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, and UNC has been working there for more than 20 years.  We have faculty members working in Malawi, South Africa, Madagascar, Cameroon and Tanzania.  Thousands of miles from Chapel Hill, these satellite sites have yielded exceptional contributions in research and discovery and allow UNC to provide care to thousands of patients.  For example, as a result of our long-term collaborations with the Malawian government and our commitment to the people of Malawi, HIV infection in the country has been reduced from about 25 percent to about 12 percent.

I cannot emphasize enough that much of the credit for our success goes to the commitment of our faculty and staff.  Many of the leaders of the UNC HIV/AIDS program started working together more than 20 years ago.  This includes physicians, nurses and scientists. 
We launched an HIV ward at UNC Hospitals in 1985.  25 years later, many of the same doctors and nurses are still caring for patients on that ward.

It is unusual to see such longevity in academic medical programs, where people tend to move around a lot. It’s my belief that in our case, the problem is so crucial and the need is so great that it seems to have literally swept away the wanderlust.

But while we are an old program, we are by no means an ailing one. We continue to launch vital new programs, hire new faculty members, and invest in our students.  We are an integral part of the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI), an international consortium of universities dedicated to HIV vaccine development.  But while CHAVI has attracted great attention and resources, we at UNC are not content to find an AIDS vaccine—we want to find a cure.  So Drs. David Margolis and Victor Garcia-Martinez are hard at work doing the ‘impossible.’”


Click here to see Cohen’s original column. See some of the most recent news stories about UNC’s AIDS research below.



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