Miami CFAR Funds Seven Pilot Projects for HIV/AIDS Research

The Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) has awarded seven pilot grants to support HIV/AIDS research.

Aligned with the areas of priority for CFAR, funding was awarded for projects related to HIV prevention and drug abuse, AIDS malignancies, co-morbidities, and cures.

Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, received funding for her project “Needs Assessment for a Provider Intervention to Increase PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) Prescribing in Florida.” South Florida continues to have the highest incidence of new HIV infections among all Centers for Disease Control metropolitan statistical areas. Doblecki-Lewis’ project highlights the need for innovative strategies to optimize implementation of evidence-based prevention methods, such as PrEP.

Xianxi Xu, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and member of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, received funding for his project “Roles of Nuclear Envelope Disruption in Viral Oncogenesis of HIV/AIDS-associated Malignancies.” Xu will study a new mechanism and gain further understanding of the viral oncogenesis of HIV/AIDS-associated malignancies.

Alexis Koskan, Ph.D., M.A., assistant professor of clinical nursing and health studies, will use the funding for her project, “Exploring Patient and Provider Factors Which Influence Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Anus: Prevention and Early Detection Behaviors Among a Diverse Sample of Men Who Have Sex With Men,” to study a diverse sample of HIV-positive men and their perspectives on how to reduce cancer risk through increased HPV vaccination and screening for squamous cell cancer of the anus.

Maria Echenique, Psy.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, will study “PATHWAYS to Pregnancy.” Results from her study will provide a foundation for a larger scale research application to address pre-conception counseling among young women living with perinatally and behaviorally acquired HIV.

Chunming Dong, M.D., associate professor of medicine, was funded for his project “MicroRNA Regulation of Endothelial Progenitor Cell Senescence and Accelerated Atherosclerosis in HIV-infected Individuals.” Dong and his team will research the functional impairment of circulating endothelial progenitor cells in HIV-infected individuals, which may in part account for their increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Ramiro Verdun, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, was funded for his project “Telomere Stability in B-cells Infected with Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus.” Verdun’s project will examine molecular mechanisms by which Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus controls AIDS activity in B-cells to develop new strategies for the pharmacological control of Kaposi’s sarcoma in AIDS patients.

Clarisse Benne, Ph.D., from the Vaccine and Gene Institute of Florida, also received funding for the project “Development of an Assay Using Induced Pluripotent Cell Lines as an In-vitro Model to Identify Mechanisms of Action of Reactivation of HIV Latent Viruses.” With a crucial need to develop reliable in-vitro model systems that reproduce the in-vivo mechanisms of HIV latency and reactivation, Benne’s project will further our understanding of the action of HIV persistence and help identify anti-latency drugs.

The pilot grants are part of the Miami CFAR Developmental Core, directed by Gwendolyn Scott, M.D., Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology and professor of pediatrics, and Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine. In addition to providing direct support for pilot projects to junior investigators and investigators new to HIV/AIDS research, the CFAR Developmental Core also provides mentoring services, Summer Student Research Awards and Travel Awards for pilot awardees to present their research at scientific meetings. Please visit for more details.

Support for the Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) at the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine is funded by grant P30AI073961 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is supported by multiple NIH co-funding and participating institutes and centers.

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