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National Aids Study at University of Pittsburgh Seeks African-American Men

PITTSBURGH, September 4, 2001 — The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has launched a campaign to recruit additional African-American men into the Pitt Men's Study, the local arm of a national, four-site study that since 1984 has been investigating the natural history of the human immunodeficiencyvirus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

"The National Institutes of Health has recognized that the scientific community does not know enough about how the human immunodeficiency virus affects African-Americans, who constitute one of the fastest growing groups of HIV-infected individuals," said Anthony Silvestre, Ph.D., associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at GSPH and recruitment coordinator for the Pitt Men's Study. To bolster research of HIV in African-Americans, the NIH is funding recruitment efforts at the University of Pittsburgh and the additional three sites in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS). Pitt researchers hope that within a year they can double the current local study population from 400 to 800 men who have sex with men.

For nearly two decades, the Pitt Men's Study and its sister MACS sites in Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles have been focused on understanding how HIV works. Together, these four study sites have consistently uncovered important information about HIV and AIDS, such as the identification of viral load as a predictor of HIV progression, the effectiveness of triple-drug therapy, and the link between human herpesvirus 8 and Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer that often strikes AIDS patients.

Traditionally, African-Americans have been underrepresented in the Pitt Men's Study and at the other MACS sites. "Until recently, AIDS was considered a white man's disease, so there was little interest on the part of African-Americans in participating in a research study devoted to it," said Dr. Silvestre.

While Census Bureau statistics show that only 12.4 percent of men in the United States are black, a full 50 percent of newly HIV-infected men in the country are black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicating that the virus is disproportionately affecting African-American men. The CDC also reports that the majority of newly infected men acquire the virus by engaging in unprotected sex with other men.

"The concern is that just as African-Americans tend to get sickle cell anemia, hypertension and cardiovascular disease more often than whites, for reasons that can be genetic or environmental, blacks may react differently than whites to HIV and to the medications used to treat HIV," said Charles Rinaldo, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of infectious diseases at the GSPH and principal investigator of the Pitt Men's Study. "In order to pinpoint these differences and develop alternative treatment modalities, we need greater participation from the black community in this important research."

Participation in the Pitt Men's Study requires semi-annual visits to the study clinic in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood for a physical exam and interview, and to give blood samples. Participants receive $1,500-$2,000-worth of medical services per year, including free screening for hepatitis A, B and C, anemia, sexually transmitted diseases, prostate and colorectal cancers and diabetes, as well as assessments of liver function, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Over time, researchers use the collected data and blood samples to study HIV and other related diseases in infected and non-infected men, gaining valuable information on how HIV causes disease, the benefits and side effects of drug treatment, and ways that the immune system can be modified to help control infection.

Participants receive all of their test results, as well as educational information on disease prevention. They have the option of having test results released to their primary care physicians. Otherwise, participation and all related information are kept confidential.

"The elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities requires African-Americans to participate in biomedical research," said Stephen Thomas, Ph.D., director of the Center for Minority Health at the GSPH. "The Pitt Men's Study stands out as one of the best examples of ethical research that I have encountered in my 15 years of work in AIDS education and prevention."

Karen Reddick, chair of the NAACP HIV subcommittee, added, "As the AIDS epidemic continues to disproportionately impact Pittsburgh's African-American community, it is critical that we, as African-Americans living in Pittsburgh, do whatever we can to support efforts to gain insight into HIV/AIDS, especially as it relates to African-Americans. I strongly encourage black men who have sex with men to join this study."

Participation in the Pitt Men's Study is open to those who are infected or non-infected with HIV, who are or are not on AIDS medications, and who are of any age and any race. A small stipend is offered to cover transportation costs. For more information or to participate, please call 412-624-2008 or 1-800-987-1963.

Established in 1948, the GSPH at the University of Pittsburgh is world-renowned for contributions that have influenced public health practices and medical care for millions of people. It is the only fully accredited school of public health in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States. It is one of eight schools across the country to be designated a Public Health Training Center by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For more information about the GSPH, access the school’s website at http://www.publichealth.pitt.edu.

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