UHealth HIV Physician-Researchers Open New University of Miami Infectious Disease Research Unit

Located adjacent to Jackson’s HIV clinic, the newly dedicated space will be used for comprehensive human research on HIV/AIDS and will help advance the University’s state-funded efforts to develop a vaccine and cure for the disease.

State Senator René García, who was instrumental in helping UM secure a $1 million state grant toward HIV cure and vaccine research for the past two years, participated in the ribbon cutting and expressed his optimism that UM will discover a cure and vaccine.

“I am proud to have played a part in securing the funds necessary to make this program happen,” said Garcia, R-Hialeah. “One thing is for sure: the Florida Legislature showed a clear commitment to the prevention, treatment, and eventual cure of HIV/AIDS in the past legislative session. I look forward to continuing to bring the issue to the forefront of the public health conversation in Florida. I know that with effective research centers such as UM’s Infectious Disease Research Unit, HIV/AIDS is nearing its end in our communities.”

In welcoming attendees and the media, Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine and Co-Director of the Center for AIDS Research, thanked state officials and Jackson for their partnership. He also recognized UM’s stellar infectious disease team for their decades-long dedication and passion for caring for people with HIV and impacting the epidemic.

The location of the unit, he said, will be a great addition to UM’s existing research efforts. “This unit is geographically situated to allow us to seamlessly recruit infected individuals, to ask them if they are willing to participate in research studies aimed at identifying a cure for HIV infection and an effective vaccine,” said Stevenson.

“This is a model that has been instigated in places like UCSF, Case Western Reserve and Harvard,” he said. “When the research unit and the clinic are right next door to each other, that has a really dramatic impact on how successfully you can recruit research subjects.”

Miami-Dade County and South Florida top the nation in HIV infections and new cases. Florida is also first in the nation in the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections and AIDS cases and second in the number of diagnosed pediatric AIDS cases. UHealth and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are home to some of the nation’s top researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS, who are developing new therapies and treatment protocols with the goal of eradicating this illness for patients everywhere.

Stevenson, along with Ronald Desrosiers, Ph.D., professor of pathology, and David Watkins, Ph.D., professor and Vice Chair of research in the Department of Pathology, are world-renowned HIV scientists who relocated their labs to UM in recent years to have greater access to the patient population for purposes of developing a cure and vaccine. UM helped pioneer early HIV/AIDS interventions and continues to lead groundbreaking HIV studies that include women’s health, behavior health, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and substance abuse, among other research areas.

Allan Rodriguez, M.D., professor of clinical medicine, said that behavioral research at the unit will play an important role in getting patients to adhere to their antiretroviral medication, which can significantly reduce their viral load and help stem transmission.

Researchers say that the new HIV unit at Jackson will greatly benefit both infected patients and research globally. Patients will receive specialized care while participating in critical research aimed at a cure. Research efforts at the new unit will significantly improve health care outcomes for study participants and reduce the costs of caring for those individuals.

“In HIV specifically, we know that patients who participate in research are much more likely to have undetectable viral loads, a significant rise in their immune function and obviously have excellent clinical outcomes,” said Rafael Campo, M.D., professor of clinical medicine, who will oversee the unit.

Desrosiers, a virologist and HIV/AIDS researcher, said finding a vaccine for HIV will take ingenuity and clinical testing.

“I’m really proud to be a part of this institution that has this new center.”

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