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Research Spotlight

Gates Foundation funds HIV-related study

More than half a dozen researchers from VCU’s two Richmond campuses are coming together to try to improve the health of HIV-infected women in Mali, West Africa.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study will help researchers determine how certain beneficial intestinal bacteria may enhance immune system function.

“HIV-infected individuals can suffer alterations of the type and quantity of intestinal bacteria,” said principal investigator Daniel Nixon, D.O., Ph.D.,director of the VCU HIV Center and associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.

“These changes may have profound adverse effects on the immune system, contributing to HIV disease progression and even seemingly unrelated conditions like cardiovascular disease.”

The study will use sophisticated molecular techniques to precisely characterize the numerous gut bacteria species and analyze immune system function before and after the administration of beneficial probiotic bacteria.

With an aim to adapt U.S. science to West African conditions, an interdisciplinary research team was assembled by VCU’s Institute for Women’s Health. The team includes medical experts in community health as well as anthropologists, linguists, and in-country physician partners who are experts on Malian culture and healthcare delivery. The studies will be conducted in two community health clinics in Ségou, Mali that provide basic health services to 60,000 people.

Patricia Cummins, Ph.D., professor of French in the VCU School of World Studies, and Saba Masho, M.D., associate professor of epidemiology and community health in the VCU School of Medicine, serve as co-principal investigators of the study.

The researchers won the $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation through its Grand Challenges Explorations program that funds projects that take innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and most persistent global health and development challenges.


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