The Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS announced earlier this month the winners of grants awarded under its Pilot Project in HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Program.

The Pilot Project Program focuses on behavioral and social science research relating to HIV/AIDS. The announcement, which preceded the kickoff of AIDS Awareness Week, came as good news to two different research groups that have been awarded funding to further develop their respective projects.

One of the winning projects, led by John Pachankis, associate professor of public health at Yale, and Krystn Wagner, medical director of the HIV infectious disease program at Fairhaven Community Health Center, aims to create intervention programs to decrease the prevalence of HIV in small urban areas by increasing self-esteem in at-risk young gay populations. The other project, led by Julia Rozanova, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine, and Sheela Shenoi, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale, will investigate the increased diagnosis of HIV in adults over 50 years of age living in Ukraine.

“What’s unique about the Pilot Project Program at CIRA is it’s really the only grant that we provide directly to affiliates and partner organizations to directly fund research,” said Elaine O’Keefe, executive director of CIRA. “CIRA exists to support the development of HIV research scientists and to help them succeed at getting funding.”

Pachankis and Wagner’s project centers on group interventions, as well as counseling designed specifically for black and Hispanic gay populations, two groups that demonstrate high incidence of HIV. According to Wagner, if the current incidence of HIV remains constant, the virus will infect one in two black American gay men and one in four Latino gay men in their lifetimes.

Wagner said she is hopeful that the program will foster increased self-esteem among these high-risk populations, thus decreasing HIV risk behavior.

“One of the thoughts behind this group intervention is potentially we can bring people together to share experience to share feelings and to recognize that they are not alone,” Wagner said.

With their project, Rozanova and Shenoi hope to learn about the HIV risk factors faced by people over 50 in Ukraine. The researchers will use their funding to interview AIDS patients in their target age range, as well as health care providers in Ukraine. As a sociologist, Rozanova will conduct the bulk of the fieldwork while Shenoi will offer medical and health research guidance, Shenoi said.

“We felt that it’s such a big issue, and it’s really a new trend in epidemiology of HIV, so we felt that it is indeed not just the public health but also a social justice issue,” Rozanova said.

CIRA is currently the only AIDS research center in New England funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. According to O’Keefe, the center aims to support the development of interdisciplinary research focused on HIV treatment and prevention. CIRA mostly assists researchers in winning external funds, but the pilot project directly awards funds that the organization receives from the National Institute of Mental Health.

To win the grant, both teams of researchers had to submit a preliminary letter of intent, followed by full proposals, which officials at CIRA evaluated based on overall impact, scientific merit, feasibility, likelihood of future external funding and relevance to the general CIRA mission.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the project and the fact that so many of them increasingly are leading to larger grant application, new collaborations, publications where we can disseminate the findings of the research,” O’Keefe said.

CIRA was established in 1997.

Carly Wanna |

Correction, Nov. 30: This version of the article has been updated to reflect the correct job title of Julia Rozanova.