UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Awarded $8.5M From National Institute of Mental Health

Global Leader in HIV Research Renewed for Fifth Time

By Jeff Sheehy

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded $8.5 million over five years to UC San Francisco’s Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) to continue conducting cutting-edge prevention research to help achieve local, national and global goals to end the AIDS epidemic.

“In 2012, UNAIDS set its global goals of zero HIV transmissions, zero HIV deaths and zero HIV discrimination, and significant progress is being made. For 30 years, CAPS has led in developing innovative, effective prevention interventions, many that have become vital tools for getting to zero and ending the epidemic. Over the next five years, we will develop new and better ways to prevent HIV and continue our leadership towards achieving UNAIDS goals,” said CAPS director Marguerita Lightfoot, PhD, chief of UCSF’s Division of Prevention Sciences. 

CAPS scientists conduct research to understand the social, structural, and psychological/mental health mechanisms that drive the HIV epidemic. Interventions developed in whole or part by CAPS researchers include condom promotion, needle exchanges, reducing sexual and substance use risks, voluntary counseling and testing, increasing adherence to medications, community building, and prevention counseling for HIV positives.

“If one looks at the gold standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Compendium of Evidence-Based Interventions and Best Practices for HIV Prevention, CAPS scientists were involved in over a quarter of the efficacious interventions for men who have sex with men and for people living with HIV,” said Lightfoot.

CAPS is also a leader in implementation research, which measures the execution and effectiveness of health interventions in real world settings and points to ways to enhance and improve the efficacy of these interventions. CAPS studies looking at how to best deliver HIV prevention interventions in clinical settings has led to changes in the operations of the clinics where two thirds of US HIV patients are seen. Internationally, CAPS scientists identified sociocultural barriers to male circumcision in Sub-Saharan Africa and identified strategies for increasing acceptance and uptake of this effective prevention intervention.

In addition, CAPS’ policy research includes examination of emerging issues and disseminates its findings to inform policymakers at local, state and federal levels. For instance, CAPS scientists were among the first to examine issues around feasibility and acceptance of PrEP, a daily pill that can reduce risk of infection by over 90 percent. One project looked at laws influencing HIV care for Mexican migrants in the U.S. and another examined how racial and ethnic disparities affected patients’ access to HIV medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

“As CAPS goes forward, addressing health disparities is one of our highest priorities. According to the CDC, African-Americans account for 44 percent of new infections despite comprising only 12 percent of the U.S. population, and Latinos accounted for a quarter of new infections while comprising just 17 percent of the U.S. population. CAPS will continue to be a leader is developing new interventions for and working with diverse communities both nationally and globally,” said Lightfoot.

Moreover, CAPS serves as a resource for Bay Area public health departments and the State of California. At the federal level, CAPS has been an active partner with federal agencies including the CDC and provides technical assistance to community-based organizations around the country to increase the capacity of the HIV prevention workforce. Internationally, CAPS provides technical assistance and capacity building for the U.S. government and developing nations in the areas of surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, use of strategic information for program planning, evidence assessment for guideline development, and capacity building to implement evidence-based interventions.

The UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies has as its mission to end the HIV epidemic and associated health and social disparities by conducting high impact HIV prevention science and building capacity among researchers and communities to effectively address HIV. CAPS is affiliated with the AIDS Research Institute (ARI) at UCSF. An “umbrella” to more than 50 programs and laboratories, ARI stimulates innovation and supports collaboration across scientific disciplines. ARI brings together hundreds of scientists to attack the epidemic from every angle, here and in scores of countries worldwide.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises three top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland, and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.