HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—continues to afflict the United States three decades after scientists first recognized the disease. At the end of 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South accounted for 45 percent of the estimated 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses in the nation.
Emory University is a vital contributor in the struggle to reverse the tide of infection. In July, the university’s efforts received a major boost. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it awarded the university’s Center for AIDS Research more than $9 million in a five-year grant.
The award includes renewal of Emory’s designation as one of the 21 NIH AIDS research sites, located at academic and research institutions throughout the nation. This is the third NIH competitive renewal grant to Emory, which now totals more than $24 million since the university started its research program.
This new funding provides support for 245 researchers working at Emory and its affiliates that conduct research at sites that include Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Decatur.
James Curran, Emory’s dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, said the university’s AIDS research center has enabled its team “to make a huge impact on Atlanta and the Southeast in fighting this epidemic.”
According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, Georgia had the sixth highest number of AIDS cases in the country in 2009. And the Atlanta metro area had the highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia.
In its comprehensive analysis of 2009, released last year, the department reported that DeKalb County had the highest number of new HIV/AIDS cases in the metro area. DeKalb had 473 new cases, just slightly higher than the 469 cases reported in Fulton County. By comparison, Clayton County had 160 new cases.
In 2009, Fulton County had the highest number of people (11,554) in the metro area living with HIV/AIDS. DeKalb had 7,240 people living the disease, and 2,318 residents of the Cobb-Douglas County area had the disease.
The university’s research center said the award will support several areas of its AIDS research, including vaccine development, drug discovery and behavioral prevention research.
In a statement, the university highlighted several of the research center’s accomplishments. Among those achievements is its instrumental role in developing an HIV vaccine that is in phase II human clinical trials. It is one of only five HIV vaccine candidates to progress to that stage of development.
The statement also noted that its scientists working at Emory, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and other locations have produced “groundbreaking” research that includes the invention of HIV/AIDS drugs that are now taken by more than 94 percent of patients on therapy around the world.
In one of its ongoing efforts, physicians in the clinical HIV program are following 1,307 HIV-positive veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The medical center serves the largest population of HIV-infected patients within the Veterans Affairs health care system, the statement underscored.
Looking to the future, Curran said, “We have great hopes that through our continued efforts we will continue to better control and eventually eliminate this terrible disease.”