Earlier this year, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 into law to help stimulate the struggling U.S. economy. At the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), part of the NIH, we have used ARRA funds to award high-quality, peer-reviewed grants focusing on research designed to help bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic both by finding new ways to prevent infection and to, hopefully, find a cure.
A critical HIV prevention question is: can we identify the populations at highest risk for infection? Using ARRA funds, NIAID is working to answer this question through two clinical trials designed to determine the feasibility and acceptability of a community level approach to HIV prevention and to estimate HIV incidence among African-American gay and bisexual men and African-American women living in geographical areas with high rates of poverty and HIV infection. The results of these two studies could have a profound impact on the future direction of HIV prevention research in the U.S.
ARRA funding is also being used to explore innovative approaches to cure HIV infection. To date, a cure has been impossible because once someone is infected with HIV, the virus tucks itself inside their cells and lays dormant only to re-emerge once antiretroviral treatment has stopped. We still have a lot to learn about this residual virus — called a reservoir — in terms of its cellular location and whether it can be eliminated. The ARRA funds have provided a significant opportunity to launch a number of interesting studies to address this challenge.
With the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza and its pronounced impact on pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses, there is an urgency to determine whether investigational flu vaccines currently being tested can also help protect HIV-infected pregnant women and children. ARRA funds have enabled us to move quickly to plan these studies, which will begin soon, and a rapid means of addressing this important issue.
Within two short years, the projects that we have started through ARRA funding will have significantly accelerated our efforts to bring new HIV prevention and treatment methods forward. The opportunities that this funding has provided are helping us take the steps necessary in our continued march to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.