Third Coast Center for AIDS Research member Mary Clare Masters, MD, received a K23 award from the National Institute on Aging to implement and evaluate HIV clinic-based screening for impaired cognition and physical function in older people with HIV (PWH). Masters is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Mary Clare Masters
Mary Clare Masters, MD

“In my clinical training and practice working with and learning from PWH, I gained more knowledge about the premature aging process that many PWH experience,” said Masters. “Despite optimal HIV management with antiretroviral therapy, PWH have high rates and early onset of non-infectious comorbidities and geriatric syndromes such as impaired cognition and physical function.”

Older PWH are at increased risk for geriatric syndromes at relatively younger ages than their peers without HIV, but identifying and managing these health conditions in PWH remains a clinical challenge in HIV care. Masters’ project, “HIV Clinic-based Screening for Geriatric Syndromes in Older Adults with HIV,” aims to address this gap in clinical care. Her research team will utilize implementation research and user-centered design to implement and evaluate an HIV clinic-based screening intervention for two key geriatric syndromes – cognitive and physical function impairment – in those 50–years old or older at the Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Center.

Frank Palella, MD, will serve as the primary mentor for this project. Lisa Hirschhorn, MD, MPH, Lee Lindquist, MD, MBA, MPH, and Kristine Erlandson, MD, are co-mentors. Ronald Ellis, MD, PhD, will serve as a collaborator and scientific advisor.

Since Masters began her infectious disease fellowship at Northwestern in 2020, she has participated in many career development opportunities supported by the Third Coast CFAR, which has been instrumental to the progression of her HIV research.

“Rich D’Aquila, co-director of the Third Coast CFAR, has served as one of my mentors since I began my research as an ID fellow and supported my development as an early-stage investigator. Justin Schmandt and the CFAR Developmental Core have also helped me advance my research career development as an early-stage investigator focused on HIV and aging,” said Masters. “The Third Coast CFAR’s support of my work through the K12 Career Development Program and a CFAR pilot award allowed me to conduct research that led to the development of my K23 award application. The CFAR has also provided a forum to present and receive feedback on my work through writer’s workshops, symposia, and mock reviews.”

The CFAR will collaborate with Masters on her new award.

“For my K23 project, I will continue to benefit from CFAR resources,” said Masters. “The Behavioral, Social, and Implementation Science (BSIS) Core will provide me with training and access to local experts in implementation science to carry out my research. In addition, the BSIS Core’s Biostatistics and Computational Resources Team (BCRT) biostatisticians will assist me with my study’s analyses.”

This new project seeks to build upon Masters’ previous clinical research on HIV and aging, a combination of research areas that she has become passionate about and looks forward to making into a lifelong career.

“Through my clinical and research experiences, I recognized the need for interventions to improve long-term outcomes for older PWH. This realization combined with my passion for managing older, medically complex patients solidified my interest in a future career in HIV and aging,” said Masters. “My long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator focused on implementing scalable and sustainable interventions to reduce functional and cognitive impairment and promote resilience among older PWH.”