UCLA leading $20 million effort to reduce HIV among youth

Project aims to reverse rapidly growing infection rate in young people

A UCLA-led team of researchers has received a $20 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to provide services for adolescents and young adults who have HIV or are at risk for HIV infection, and to study how well those services work.

Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, director of the Global Center for Children and Families at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, will lead the five-year project, working with teams at Columbia University, the Friends Research Institute, Nova Southeastern University, Tulane University, UC San Francisco and Wake Forest University, which all are part of the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network. The initiative will focus on youth in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

“Despite dramatic improvements in the ability to treat and prevent HIV, the HIV rate among youth in America has doubled in the last 10 years,” Rotheram-Borus said. “We want to change the national trajectory of HIV among those most affected by the epidemic: young gay and bisexual men and transgender youth.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV-positive adolescents and young adults have become increasingly likely to remain unaware that they have HIV and fail to adhere to treatment regimens. The CDC also reports that those who are most at risk for becoming infected with HIV are homeless or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

For the project, which began in May, the researchers will recruit study participants through community-based organizations, including those that work with young people who are homeless or who have previously been incarcerated.

The project’s goal is to prevent new infections and increase the quality of life for young people with HIV. It has three major components:

  • Treating acute infection. Researchers will use at least four highly potent antiretroviral therapies to provide aggressive treatment for people who have recently been infected. Doctors will check patients regular to see how well their immune system is suppressing the virus.
  • Stepped care. Researchers will compare standard clinical care for HIV-positive youth with more intense strategies that also incorporate text messaging and monitoring, online peer support and interpersonal coaching.
  • Preventive care for HIV-negative youth. Researchers will study different combinations of support involving technology. In addition to text messaging and monitoring, young people who do not have HIV may also receive online peer support or interpersonal coaching. Coaches will use phone calls, video chats and social media to notify participants about local resources for housing, mental health and substance use services.

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