AIDS center expands its reach to work overseas

Facing the ever-growing AIDS pandemic, Yale set out five years ago to create a center to coordinate and facilitate HIV research at home and abroad.

In the last month, this project, the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, or CIRA, received over $12 million in the form of two grants to further expand its efforts.

Originally created to provide a localized infrastructure for projects involving HIV/AIDS research at Yale, the center now serves as a headquarters for independently funded research projects in New Haven and around the world.

“The center provides a general sense of community where researchers can find other people doing the same research, as well as provide practical services and act as a centralized source of information,” said CIRA Associate Director Kim Blankenship, an associate research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine.

“Now people who were off in their offices alone, only collaborating with a few people, are now part of this larger community, which allows opportunities for interaction and to think about new ways of looking at research questions,” Blankenship said.

As a testament to the center’s collaborative nature, six different Yale graduate and professional schools have faculty members participating in the CIRA, including the Medical School, the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the School of Management, the Graduate School, the Law School and the Nursing School.

The National Institute of Mental Health granted the CIRA $10.7 million in December to expand its infrastructure. The center also received a $1.5 million grant in January from the Fogarty International Center to establish a collaborative HIV research project with the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

The Fogarty grant is especially pertinent to the global fight against AIDS because an estimated 4.7 million people, or one in four adults in South Africa, are currently infected with HIV/AIDS. That figure, higher than in any other country, is expected to double in the coming decade.

Since the center’s creation in 1997, it has managed to attract 66 different research and training projects within its walls, bringing the nascent center into the national research spotlight. In the same amount of time, 27 scientists have joined the center. The CIRA had more than 100 scholarly scientific articles being reviewed or in print by the year 2001.

By supporting local affiliated research partners like Hartford’s Institute for Community Research and the Hispanic Health Council, the National Institute of Mental Health award will lengthen the center’s reach into community-based organizations, ensuring that local AIDS concerns are addressed. The same grant will also fund several international research projects that currently in development to bolster research outside the United States.

One international university the center knows it will be working with is the University of Pretoria in South Africa, thanks to the independent Fogarty grant, entitled the International Clinical, Operational and Health Services Research and Training Award.

This grant, aimed at supporting research between U.S. institutions and those in developing countries, will allow faculty members to travel between the two universities to collaborate on newly developed research projects.

One such exchange will happen next month when Mary Crewe, who runs the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria, will visit New Haven for a week. She will meet with researchers at Yale to develop potential projects for the two universities to undertake.

“The hope is that together, we can actually do something that will make an impact on the epidemic in terms of helping with clinical research and in prevention,” Blankenship said. “We see this as the beginning of a foundation that can be a long-term relationship, not just with Pretoria, but with many other institutions as well.”

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