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Major HIV/AIDS Studies Seek Volunteers

More research needed on effects on minorities, women

SATURDAY, Sept. 29, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The two longest-running observational studies of HIV and AIDS in the United States are recruiting new participants.

Both studies have already made important contributions to AIDS prevention and treatment.

Much of what American doctors now know about the natural course of HIV-related illnesses in the United States has come from the "Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study" (MACS), started in 1984, and the "Women's Interagency HIV Study" (WIHS), begun in 1993. But each has lost a large number of participants to AIDS, and a great deal has changed about the epidemic since the studies began.

For instance, today's powerful AIDS medications -- particularly those used in highly active antiviral therapy, commonly referred to as "HAART" -- have transformed an acute, rapidly fatal viral infection into a chronic disease.

"This means we have new issues to address, such as the safety and benefits of long-term treatment, HIV's effects in older populations, and the nature of both the virus and the immune system during chronic infections," says Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.

Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the sponsors of the two studies.

And, says Carolyn Williams, an epidemiologist in NIAID's Division of AIDS, the populations affected by HIV have also changed. Initially a disease of white men who had sex with other men, AIDS has now moved into minority populations, affecting both men and women alike.

According to NIAID, 50 percent of newly infected men in the United Statesare black and 20 percent are Hispanic; 64 percent of newly infected women are black and 18 percent are Hispanic.

That is why the studies are now looking for a diverse group of new volunteers.

"We need to add people to the groups we are following who are most like those now experiencing HIV infections," Williams says. "And we need to add people who can help us understand the impact of newer therapies on the course of a chronic disease that many people are now going to be living with for a long, long time."

Both studies are enrolling new volunteers who are HIV-negative and HIV-positive. HIV-positive persons who have never received HAART, as well as those who began receiving HAART before developing an opportunistic infection and have complete medical records available, are eligible to participate.

MACS has study sites in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. WIHS sites are located in Chicago, Los Angeles, Hawaii, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Williams says clinics in each city are recruiting from the HIV-positive patient populations they presently serve. They are also seeking uninfected volunteers or HIV-infected individuals who are not yet being actively treated.

The benefits of participation, she says, include the opportunity for extensive testing, support groups and the latest information about HIV and AIDS, including new approaches to prevention and treatment of HIV-related diseases. Volunteers also receive transportation reimbursement and a small stipend for participation at most sites.

Williams says NIAID is also hoping to gain additional information about persons who once participated in the studies, but, for whatever reason, lost contact with the researchers.

"They may have moved or simply dropped out of participation for another reason," she says. "It's very important to the research that we follow up with as many of them as possible."

MACS is funded by NIAID and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). WIHS is funded by NIAID, NCI, the National Institute of Child Health, the National Institute of Dental Research, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health.

What to Do: For information about volunteering for the MACS or WIHS studies, or to provide information on former participants, you can call 1-800-874-2574. Additional information about each study and the need for volunteers is available at this NIAID Web site.

SOURCES: Interview with Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., epidemiologist, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Division of AIDS; press statement from Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Md.
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