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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) today announced that Constance Benson, M.D., Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, is one of six clinical investigators at leading research institutions who will lead NIAID’s newly restructured HIV/AIDS clinical trials networks.
Dr. Benson will head the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) network for the NIAID, providing leadership in the search for safe and effective treatments and prevention strategies, including new HIV medications and HIV vaccines. NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), supports the world’s largest portfolio of clinical HIV/AIDS research. The UCSD Adult AIDS Clinical Trials Unit was one of the founding units in the NIAID program in 1986.
"The new network structure expands our clinical research capacity and strengthens our ability to take advantage of emerging scientific opportunities," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "By creating a more integrated, collaborative and flexible structure, we will be better equipped to meet evolving global AIDS research priorities."
Benson is an internationally recognized HIV/AIDS researcher who has been involved in translational and clinical HIV/AIDS research for over 20 years. She has been active in the ACTG since 1987, and has served since 1991 in numerous scientific leadership and governance roles, including serving as Principal Investigator of the ACTG and Chair of its Executive Committee since 2003. She has developed and chaired numerous ACTG protocols and has led other NIH/NIAID-sponsored projects.
She came to UCSD in 2004, where she heads UCSD Medical Center’s Antiviral Research Center. Her major research interests are in the development of new HIV drugs and treatment strategies, treatment and prevention of HIV-1 related opportunistic infections, the pathogenesis and treatment of acute HIV-1 infection, complications of HIV therapies, and capacity building and research training for HIV/AIDS in resource-limited international settings.
"Dr. Benson is a terrific scientist with great insights into what it’s going to take to combat this epidemic," said Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D., chair of UCSD’s Department of Medicine. "She has all the right skills to bring together researchers, clinicians, the community and funding agencies – who all need to work together in the fight against HIV/AIDS."
The NIAID leadership group awards represent the first step of the two-part restructuring process of the HIV/AIDS clinical trials networks. Awards for the Clinical Trials Units (CTUs), which will carry out the clinical research, are expected to be announced later this year. Total funding for both the network leadership and the CTUs is expected to reach $285 million during the first year of operation.
Each leadership group will be led by a principal investigator and include a core operations center that will provide administrative and technical support; a statistical and data management center; and a network laboratory structure. The six HIV/AIDS clinical research networks will focus their efforts on the highest priorities in clinical HIV/AIDS research, including:
· Developing a safe and effective HIV vaccine
· Conducting translational research for new drug development
· Optimizing clinical management of HIV/AIDS, including co-
infections and other HIV-related conditions
· Developing microbicides to prevent HIV acquisition and
· Creating strategies to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission
· Developing new methods of HIV prevention
The other principal investigators and institutions named today include: Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, Nashville, the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN); Lawrence Corey, M.D., The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN); Jay Brooks Jackson, M.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials (IMPAACT); James D. Neaton, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, the International Network for Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT); and Sharon Hillier, Ph.D., Magee-Women’s Research Institute, Pittsburgh, the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN).
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on basic immunology, transplantation and immune-related disorders, including autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies.
UCSD has been among the leading academic institutions worldwide in HIV research since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Following seminal observation on AZT – one of the first anti-HIV drug therapies – and the cognitive impact of HIV infection in the mid-1980s, UCSD emerged as a leader in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV and its clinical and behavioral complications. In 1996, the AIDS Research Institute was established by the Regents of the University of California to coordinate the diverse AIDS research and clinical activities on the UCSD campus. Grounded in productive collaboration by multidisciplinary groups of investigators, research and clinical programs at UCSD include the UCSD Mother, Child, and Adolescent HIV Program, part of the Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trials Group; the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center (HNRC); and UCSD’s Owen Clinic, a multidisciplinary primary care clinic for adults with HIV infection established in 1982. The clinic currently cares for over 2600 patients and is home of the San Diego AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC), which provides clinical training through a mini-residency program for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and registered nurses.
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