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SUNY Downstate receives over $2 million for STAR

1/30/2014, 1:07 p.m.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s Special Treatment and Research (STAR) program has received five new awards totaling more than $2 million. When added to previously announced awards, STAR program faculty received approximately $5 million in funding awards in 2013. The STAR program has a quarter-century history of providing innovative HIV primary and specialty care, research, prevention services and clinical education in Central Brooklyn.

Funding that SUNY Downstate has received for all HIV/AIDS-related clinical and research activities since the beginning of the HIV epidemic totals $152 million. 

“Brooklyn continues to be at the center of the AIDS epidemic,” said Dr. Jack DeHovitz, MPH, distinguished service professor of medicine and STAR program director, “but the nature of the epidemic is changing, and these new grants reflect Downstate’s history of developing new means of reaching and treating the people most at risk.”  

Two awards come from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A $1.56 million award will enable STAR to expand its substance abuse and HIV treatment program for Black and Hispanic adult women. The three-year project will address behaviors stemming from active substance abuse that may place women at risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV.

Led by DeHovitz, who is the principal investigator of the project, this will include efforts to identify lesbian, bisexual and previously incarcerated women who have substance abuse and/or mental health disorders. The program will use intervention tactics such as motivational interviewing, which seeks to elicit changes in client behavior; seeking safety, a type of cognitive/behavioral group therapy used to treat individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse; and acupuncture, which can be used as a complementary therapy for substance abuse. 

A $116,000 project, with DeHovitz as the principal investigator, will develop and implement a social media initiative to reduce substance abuse and HIV transmission, focusing on young African-American and Afro-Caribbean men who have sex with men, as well as focusing on male-to-female transgender women. The project will address chronic health disparities rooted in sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination through the use of text messaging and online surveys. Peer mentors will complement the use of new media. 

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has awarded Downstate $160,000 as part of the city’s multisite Prevention with Positives project. This program aims to reduce secondary HIV transmission by creating new means for health care providers to reduce risky behaviors among HIV-positive persons and determine which of the new techniques are the most effective. The effort implemented at the STAR Health Center will involve a self-administered risk behavior screening, followed by provider-delivered and group-based risk reduction counseling sessions. In addition, the project will customize existing electronic health records to prompt and monitor risk behavior screenings, provider-delivered counseling and any necessary referrals and follow-up. Dr. Jameela Yusuff, MPH, assistant professor of medicine and STAR program medical director, is the principal investigator of this project.

The HIV/AIDS Bureau of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has given Downstate a Ryan White Part C Capacity Development Award in the amount of $84,000, with DeHovitz as principal investigator. The award will fund the delivery of a novel screening procedure for people living with HIV or AIDS in order to reduce the incidence of anal cancer. The funds will be used in the purchase of high-resolution anoscopy equipment and the training and supervision of HIV clinicians in its use. The implementation of this relatively new technology will enable identification and treatment of this disease far earlier, and its effects of this implementation will be analogous to that of the implementation of Pap smears to prevent cervical cancer.