Advancing prevention of anal HIV transmission is aim for new amfAR research grants

January 29, 2007

NEW YORK, NY — amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has awarded nearly $1 million for eight new research grants and fellowships aimed at increasing understanding and prevention of anal HIV transmission, Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR's vice president of research announced today.

"Twenty-five years after the first identification of AIDS, the taboos that surround an open discussion of sexual behavior are still haunting us in our efforts to contain this pandemic" said Dr. Johnston. "It is time for us to take an honest and unflinching look at how HIV is spread and how to minimize the risks. This new research should help us to further untangle this riddle."

Sexual transmission accounts for the majority of HIV infections both in the United States and around the world, but how much of that transmission is due to anal intercourse remains unclear.

Although not often acknowledged, many heterosexual couples engage in anal intercourse and may not be aware that they are placing themselves at high risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, Dr. Johnston said. In South Africa, a country with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, little is known about the extent to which the virus is spread by anal intercourse. Dr. Joanne Mantell, a researcher at the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene in New York, will use amfAR funding to gain insight into the frequency of anal intercourse in South Africa among heterosexuals and the circumstances under which it occurs.

Others, such as Drs. Charlene Dezutti of Magee-Women's Research Institute and Foundation in Pittsburgh and Craig Hendrix of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, will strive to understand the interactions between the virus and the cells in the rectum and colon that can tip the scale towards the establishment of infection.

Understanding the extent to which anal intercourse spreads HIV infection will become increasingly important as researchers race to devise microbicides, which may be effective only when used vaginally. Findings made by these new amfAR researchers will contribute to the development of prevention technologies that can also be used by those engaging in anal intercourse. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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