NIH Awards UNC-CH School Of Medicine $6 Million To Set Up Unique Sex Disease Unit

November 06, 1997

CHAPEL HILL -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine will establish the nation's only clinical trials center devoted exclusively to developing and testing new sexually transmitted disease therapies and prevention methods, medical school officials announced today (Nov. 6). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is supporting the effort with a new five-year, $6.04 million contract with UNC-CH infectious disease experts.

"UNC was selected to establish the special clinical trials unit because of its extensive expertise and experience with researching and treating AIDS and other sexually transmitted illnesses," said Dr. Jeffrey Houpt, dean of the School of Medicine. "The federal government gives UNC-CH scientists more than $5 million a year for infectious disease research and treatment alone because these dedicated researchers have an outstanding international reputation."

Cementing a partnership with the universities of Washington at Seattle and Alabama at Birmingham and Family Health International, the contract will provide the administrative, medical and scientific infrastructure for future coordinated research, according to project director Dr. Myron S. Cohen.

"Sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis and gonorrhea, are major problems worldwide, in part because they greatly enhance transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS," Cohen said. "This new unit, which will be unique in the United States, will allow us to develop and test new therapies and vaccines with more efficiency than has been possible in the past."

Cohen is professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology and chief of infectious diseases at UNC-CH.

At the university, more than 30 faculty members and others from the schools of medicine, public health, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy and the College of Arts and Sciences will be involved in the research. Besides syphilis and gonorrhea, scientists also will focus on such inflammatory diseases as chlamydia and trichomonas and such ulcerative illnesses as herpes and chancroid.

"Two of our first activities will be developing a vaccine for gonorrhea and testing topical microbe-killing creams that women around the world can use to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases," Cohen said. "Such microbicides are a very high priority now for the National Institutes of Health, and there are several that deserve to be tested."

Dr. Penny Hitchcock, director of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., will oversee the new clinical trials unit as project officer for NIH.

"The group of investigators at UNC are extremely qualified to conduct these studies," Hitchcock said. "We are very pleased to be able to work together on such critically important clinical research questions.

"The STD Clinical Trials Unit will provide the opportunity to clinically evaluate biomedical and behavioral interventions for STD prevention and control," she said. "Testing vaccines, evaluating microbicides, measuring the efficacy of behavioral interventions and looking at screening for early diagnosis and treatment to prevent chronic disease will be typical activities."

More than a million people in the United States and 30 million people around the world have become infected with the AIDS virus, he said.

Note: Cohen can be reached at (919) 966-2536.
Contact: David Williamson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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