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. 

HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau has also given Downstate a Ryan White Part C Supplemental Award of $525,000 over a two-year period. The award will allow the STAR program, under the direction of DeHovitz, to further the recruitment of culturally competent staff members and enhance primary care services of the STAR Health Center through the implementation of a home visiting program.

Previously announced STAR program-related funding for 2013 includes a $1,197,766 award from the New York state Department of Health’s Empire Clinical Research Investigator Program. This award will enable Downstate to study the accelerated aging phenomenon found in successfully treated HIV patients, which includes an unusual variant of arteriosclerotic disease.

The principal investigator is Deborah R. Gustafson, professor of neurology. The team of collaborating investigators includes Dr. Alison Baird, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and physiology and pharmacology; Dr. Howard Crystal, professor of neurology; Dr. Jason Lazar, MPH, professor of medicine; Dr. Steven Levine, professor of neurology and emergency medicine; and DeHovitz. 

Also, as previously announced, HRSA’s AIDS Education and Training Center gave the STAR program, led by DeHovitz, a $1.5 million award to educate and train physician assistants in HIV care, in collaboration with the Physician Assistant Program in Downstate’s College of Health Related Professions. Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, PA-C, is dean of the College of Health Related Professions. Felix Nwamaghinna, MSB, RPA-C, is chair of the Physician Assistant Program.