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UCLA researchers awarded $9.5 million to investigate how substance use may impact HIV transmission and progression

In March 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health $9.5 million over five years to continue their work on possible connections between substance abuse and HIV infection. The work, which has officially begun this June, is a continuation of a study that launched in 2013 with a $7 million NIDA grant. 

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Date: 
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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In the United States, approximately two-thirds of new HIV infections occur among Latino and African-American men who have sex with men. In addition, studies show that drug abuse is linked with poor adherence to HIV medication and prevention therapies.

In March 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health $9.5 million over five years to continue their work on possible connections between substance abuse and HIV infection. The work, which has officially begun this June, is a continuation of a study that launched in 2013 with a $7 million NIDA grant. The grant will allow researchers to spend another five years following up with and collecting demographic, behavioral and clinical data from more than 500 Latino and African-American men who have sex with men and who are either HIV-positive or HIV-negative and were first enrolled between 2013-2017. Researchers will work to untangle the effects of substance use (including alcohol, cannabis, stimulants such as methamphetamine, illicit use of prescription drugs and opioids such as heroin and fentanyl) on the acquisition and progression of HIV in this population.

Researchers with the MSM and Substances Cohort at UCLA Linking Infections Noting Effects, or mSTUDY, will investigate:

  • whether using drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, illicit prescription drugs or marijuana may increase risk for acquiring HIV
  • whether certain substances increase bodily inflammation that can exacerbate the effects of an HIV infection
  • whether substance abuse leads to poor adherence to HIV care and treatment
  • whether substance abuse is linked with a greater risk of developing other diseases and conditions such as respiratory disease, metabolic disease, psychiatric disease and sexually transmitted infections
  • how the mucosal microenvironment is affected by stimulants, cannabis and other substances and the resultant impact on HIV susceptibility/pathogenesis
  • how social disparities are associated with poor health outcomes for young men of color affected by HIV

The project is unique in that the researchers will make all of the biological specimens and data that they collect available for other scientists to analyze.

“Our aim is not just to be a research study, but also to establish a platform that allows researchers within and outside of UCLA to have access to these specimens and data,” said Pamina M. Gorbach, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a principal investigator of the mSTUDY. “We hope this collaboration leads to more research that contributes to the development of new HIV prevention and treatment strategies.”

In the previous five-year funding cycle, the researchers achieved several accomplishments, including a 95% participation retention rate and the collection of over 30,000 specimens that are banked in a shared repository. The project has also served as the basis for the funding of two complementary Research Project Grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), six seed grants that support junior investigators in collecting preliminary data for future grants and two training applications.

In addition to Gorbach, the research team includes Co-Principal Investigator Steven Shoptaw, Co-Investigator/Biorepository Director Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, Co-Investigator Ronald Brookmeyer, Co-Investigator Marjan Javanbakht, Co-Investigator Dr. Jennifer Fulcher, Co-Investigator Nina Harawa and Study Director Amy Ragsdale.

The mSTUDY is being conducted as part of the Biobehavioral Assessment Research Center, which promotes projects that the NIH has identified as high-priority areas of public health research.  


The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has more than 600 students from more than 25 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.