UC Davis to develop center for AIDS research to address emerging aids epidemic in north-central California

November 13, 2001

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- The human immunodeficiency virus is increasingly touching the medically underserved and vulnerable in the North-Central Valley, where information about prevention and access to care is poor. But a new Center for AIDS Research is being developed at UC Davis to break the cycle of infection and to bring the benefits of research to residents of these rural communities.

"The whole picture of AIDS and HIV infection in California is shifting," said Thomas Evans, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center. "Traditionally focused in communities along the Pacific Coast, infection is now moving inland to agricultural centers all along Interstate Highway 5. We need to investigate these new patterns of infection and develop strategies to prevent the spread of AIDS."

With a $2.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Evans is leading the effort to develop the North-Central California Center for AIDS Research to address all aspects of HIV infection, from the laboratory bench to community outreach.

The new center builds on the clinical expertise and successful outreach efforts of several groups of UC Davis physicians in the Division of Infectious Diseases; at the Center for Agricultural Research; and at the Center for AIDS Research, Education and Services (CARES), a free-standing clinic that provides a coordinated response to the Sacramento area's exploding HIV/AIDS epidemic.

It also includes internationally renowned groups of basic and preclinical scientists throughout the UC Davis campus. Experts include researchers from the Center for Comparative Medicine, School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the California Regional Primate Research Center, as well as at the California Department of Health Services and the University of California, Berkeley. Pioneering studies conducted over the past 20 years by individuals at these laboratories have significantly contributed to the understanding of HIV infection, transmission, drug resistance, vaccine development and immune system restoration.

"Our goal is to harness the tremendous strength of these individual programs and direct our collective efforts to outreach and translational research," said Satya Dandekar, professor of infectious diseases at UC Davis and co-principal investigator of the grant. "We aim to work with physicians in the community to meet the challenges of the emerging AIDS epidemic, develop effective strategies that prevent primary HIV infection, and bring early anti-retroviral therapies to agricultural workers and other at-risk populations in rural California."

The new center at UC Davis aims to make it easier for patients, practicing physicians and public health workers to have closer links with HIV experts and leading-edge treatments. At the same time, it will foster communication and interaction between basic researchers and clinicians, which will help advance knowledge of HIV, as well as the prevention and treatment of AIDS in these communities. "UC Davis researchers have developed some new and promising treatment strategies, which we plan to develop into phase 1 clinical trials," said Evans. "Clinicians will also be asking researchers to answer some of the basic questions underlying poor outcomes in current HIV treatments. "

At the HIV-1 program at San Joaquin General Hospital, for example, infectious diseases specialist Charles Krasner and internist Rod Felber treat about 300 patients each year. Unlike treatment centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, much of their patient population is geographically isolated, poor, multi-ethnic, and non-English speaking. Many are migrant workers and methamphetamine users who are already in an advanced stage of the disease when they first visit the clinic. These patients need special care to comply with treatments and new educational approaches to effectively stop the spread of HIV.

Evans plans to tap the expertise of the UC Davis's award-winning telemedicine program to bring expert care to any patient within 10 or 20 miles of a hospital in Northern California. Using high-speed data lines that allow real-time videoconferencing, the telemedicine project will make research available to everyone in the region, not just those who can drive to Sacramento.

"We want to include patients from Stockton, Redding, South Lake Tahoe, and similar areas in clinical research and give them opportunities to participate in new drug development," said Neil Flynn, a professor of infectious diseases at UC Davis and founding director of CARES, a leading HIV-treatment center in the region.

In addition to assessing the effectiveness of new HIV therapies, the center will fund studies that focus on the behavioral, social and epidemiologic aspects of HIV infection, as well as address language and cultural issues that allow AIDS to spread in rural, ethnic populations.

"We need to know what patients and their families think," said Krasner. "There are a lot of cultural issues that play a role in educating farm workers and maximizing their ability to comply with therapy. But right now, it's really a black hole in terms of knowing what makes patients follow health guidelines."

The new North-Central Center for AIDS Research will support investigations that address major gaps in current knowledge in the basic sciences as well as behavioral and social aspects of medicine. Improving educational outreach is crucial.
Copies of all news releases from UC Davis Health System are available on the Web at http://news.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu

University of California - Davis Health System

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