CONNECTing HIV Research to the Community
Maria Alcaide, M.D., hopes that the Miller School of Medicine’s new mobile research unit will bring HIV research to the South Florida community.
Miller School HIV physician-scientists are taking HIV research on the road, and their new ride promises to enhance awareness of their work and the diversity of study participants.
CONNECT is a mobile unit that Maria Alcaide, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, will use to further the reach of clinical research addressing issues affecting people with HIV in the South Florida community.
“The University of Miami’s new CONNECT mobile unit is poised to revolutionize community-driven HIV and infectious diseases research,” said Dr. Alcaide.
One of four mobile units associated with the Miller School’s HIV and infectious diseases program, and the first dedicated exclusively to research, the CONNECT vehicle is equipped with state-of-the-art clinical equipment and staffed by experienced HIV researchers from the Miller School.
Bringing HIV Research to the South Florida Community
Slated to offer research services in November 2023, CONNECT’s mobility bridges the gap between the university and the community and addresses a critical challenge in HIV and infectious diseases research: recruiting and retaining a diverse and representative cohort of participants.
“By connecting with community members where they are, CONNECT breaks down barriers to participation and ensures that research findings are informed by the experiences of the communities most affected by these diseases,” Dr. Alcaide said.
Engaging the community will also result in larger, more diverse cohorts for studies, which can lead to more effective care.
“CONNECT will enable researchers to identify new patterns and trends that may not be evident in traditional research settings,” said Dr. Alcaide. “This new knowledge can be used to develop more effective and equitable prevention and treatment strategies.”
NIH Funding Emphasis on Underserved Communities
CONNECT responds to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) prioritization of research projects that focus on underserved communities.
Of particular interest to Dr. Alcaide is the impact CONNECT will have on the National Institutes of Health-funded MACS/WIHS combined cohort study (MWCCS). Joining fellow principal investigators Margaret Fischl, M.D., FACP, and Deborah Jones Weiss, Ph.D., M.Ed., MWCCS will study thousands of people in the U.S., and 530 women and men in Miami, to determine the impact of chronic conditions, including heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders, on people living with HIV.
The study seeks to identify markers of increased risk for chronic conditions, with a special focus on cardiovascular disease, learn about immune system activation and inflammation due to HIV infection in other health conditions, and determine how antiretroviral therapy affects other HIV and other health outcomes as people age.
CONNECT will also support NIH-funded longitudinal studies focused on HIV’s relation to aging, reproductive health, COVID and mental health, amongst others, and studies supported by the Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and the Center for HIV Research and Mental Health (CHARM).
“CONNECT’s potential impact on federal funding will be significant,” Dr. Alcaide said. “The NIH is increasingly prioritizing research that is community-engaged and that addresses the health disparities of underserved populations. CONNECT’s ability to deliver high-quality research to diverse communities will make it a valuable partner for NIH-funded research programs.”
And, most importantly, CONNECT will play a significant role in introducing the latest HIV research studies to the people who cannot participate in traditional, clinic-based studies.
“This initiative has the potential to transform HIV and infectious diseases research,” said Dr. Alcaide. “By making research more accessible and inclusive, CONNECT will help to ensure that the most vulnerable communities benefit from the latest scientific advances.”