During the recent CFAR Annual National Meeting hosted by Johns Hopkins University CFAR, Joshua Schrock, PhD, MPH, and Harita Shah, MD, presented posters on their latest HIV research and participated in an early-stage investigator workshop.

Joshua Schrock, PhD
Joshua Schrock, PhD, MPH, discussing his latest HIV research with attendees at the CFAR Annual National Meeting in Baltimore.

Dr. Schrock is a research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) and a member of the TC CFAR. For the early-stage investigators’ poster session, he presented, “Absolute CD4 count predicts early alterations of longitudinal trajectories in the brain’s central executive network among persons living with HIV (PLWH).”

The brain’s central executive network (CEN) plays a key role in the pathogenesis of depression, substance use, and cognitive impairment, all of which are common comorbidities of HIV. Previous research has shown that the resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) in the CEN is lower in PLWH compared to healthy controls, suggesting reduced function of the CEN. But it is unclear when these changes occur and what clinical markers predict them. Dr. Schrock’s research found that people who had recently acquired HIV had similar CEN rsFC as people without HIV. But greater immunopathology in PLWH, as reflected by lower CD4 counts, predicted more negative longitudinal trajectories of CEN rsFC. This suggests that HIV-related differences in CEN rsFC may take years to develop and are exacerbated by greater immunopathology in early HIV.

“It was a privilege to attend the CFAR National Meeting and meet other early-stage investigators and established leaders in HIV research. It was inspiring to meet so many of the people behind some of the most exciting new science in the field,” said Dr. Schrock. “I also greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear members of the community share their valuable perspectives throughout the program. I am grateful to the Third Coast CFAR for supporting my participation in the meeting.”

Dr. Shah is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and a member of the TC CFAR. During the CFAR national meeting, she presented, “PrEPárate: Evaluation of a Community-Driven PrEP Social Marketing Campaign Tailored to Latina/x/o Individuals.”

Harita Shah, MD, with her poster.

Latina/x/o sexual minority men and transgender women remain disproportionately impacted by HIV, with significantly higher rates of HIV infection and lower uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) than their non-Hispanic white peers. Disparities in PrEP uptake among Latina/x/o populations are driven by structural, social, and personal barriers. Social marketing interventions have shown to effectively address barriers to PrEP and increase PrEP uptake in other populations. Dr. Shah and the Chicago Queer Latinx (CQL) Collaborative directed a community-engaged social marketing campaign for Latina/x/o individuals which was associated with increased PrEP awareness and PrEP uptake, suggesting that social marketing campaigns can be an effective strategy for promoting PrEP among underserved Latina/x/o populations. Community engagement is essential to creating effective interventions that overcome barriers and resonate with community needs.

“I am grateful to the Third Coast CFAR for the opportunity to present at the CFAR national meeting and learn from the early-stage investigator workshops. It was energizing to see the breadth of research and collaboration fostered by the CFAR as well as the emphasis on community partnerships,” said Dr. Shah. “I also enjoyed meeting many collaborators in person after years of crossing paths over Zoom during the pandemic. Having spent several years in Baltimore during my training at Hopkins, it was personally very meaningful for me to return to the city and reconnect with mentors and friends in this setting.”

Drs. Schrock and Shah also met with senior faculty from across the CFAR network and program officers from several institutes at the NIH during a day-long mentoring workshop. The interactive sessions were designed to help ESIs navigate grant writing, careers in academia, and research dissemination.

Dr. Schrock is a TC CFAR pilot awardee and recently began a NIDA-funded K01 award.

Dr. Shah is also a TC CFAR pilot awardee and has led an EHE supplement project and EHE planning award. She is currently an Institute for Translational Medicine KL2 scholar.