OHTN-funded researchers successful at CIHR

Three research teams led by OHTN-supported researchers were successful in a recent Canadian Institutes for Health Research Team Grant competition. The special competition targeting Boys’ and Men’s Health created an opportunity for Ontario researchers to secure more funding for HIV treatment and prevention among two of the OHTN’s priority populations: gay men and African, Caribbean and Black men.

Funding was awarded to:

  • A team led by Dr. Irving Salit (OHTN-funded research) that will explore how best to deliver anal cancer screening, treatment and vaccination programs for gay men and other men who have sex with men, and to look at the role of human papilloma virus (HPV) – the virus that causes anal cancer – in HIV transmission.
  • A team led by Dr. Trevor Hart (OHTN Applied Research Chair in Gay Men’s Health) that plans to assess which HIV and other sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention programs gay men and other men who have sex with men are using, as well as the extent to which these programs are associated with reduced rates of HIV and other STIs in Canada’s biggest cities.
  • A team led by Dr. Josephine Wong (CIHR/OHTN new investigator) and Dr. Winston Husbands (OHTN Community Scholar) that plans to identify the barriers that self-identified heterosexual African, Caribbean and Black (“ACB”) men face in accessing HIV programs and services. The team will also look at promoting greater engagement of ACB men in community HIV responses.

Each of the successful teams will receive $300,000 a year for five years – which means that these OHTN-funded researchers and their teams will have a total of $4.5 million to apply to new HIV prevention and care strategies.

Filling in the knowledge gaps

Each of the successful projects will allow researchers to close gaps in what we know about HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Identifying and treating anal cancer

“There are key knowledge gaps in the delivery of care to HIV-positive men who have sex with men regarding both anal cancer screening and the overall management of HPV-related disease,” says Dr. Troy Grennan, a member of Dr. Salit’s team.

“The key thing this research program will yield is some answers as to how to best deliver care—how to deliver vaccines, get people screened and to understand which of those screened individuals need more urgent care versus those who can wait. It’s really going to clarify ways that we can deliver this kind of care more effectively.” 

HIV prevention among men who have sex with men

Dr. Trevor Hart, who will be leading the team working to identify which HIV prevention programs gay men are using, points to another key gap. “There hasn’t yet been a national study that both assesses for recent HIV prevalence and that asks about people’s HIV prevention needs and what services they’re using. Our goal is to learn more about what gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men want and which HIV socio-behavioral prevention programs and biomedical treatments they are using.”

Armed with the data his team will collect, Dr. Hart explains, “We plan to design a minimum of three new HIV prevention programs that we will pilot and test both in the big cities (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) and outside the big cities.”

Engaging African, Caribbean and Black men

“This is an exciting grant because we are at last having the opportunity to work as a team in four cities with self-identified heterosexual African, Caribbean and Black men,” says Dr. Josephine Wong, who will be co-leading the team looking at barriers ACB men face in accessing HIV programs and services. “These men are vulnerable to HIV, but very few studies actually look at their experience.”

Dr. Wong explains that the grant will allow the team not only to identify some of the factors that contribute to vulnerability, but to examine resilience as well. “What’s really important for us is to be able to engage the communities, and the ACB men themselves, so that research is not just an outcome but a process of capacity building and collective empowerment.”

OHTN helps teams succeed

The OHTN invested strategically in these grants, partnered with the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health and the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research to create a dedicated pool of funding for HIV research. The money was and is important—it demonstrates the OHTN’s commitment to HIV research among priority populations—but the OHTN also provided support in other ways.

“Right from the beginning, as soon as CIHR put out the call for proposals for this program, the OHTN invited researchers to come to a planning day,” explains Dr. Wong. “And there was support for all the different teams to come and share ideas, and connect with each other.”

For the anal cancer grant, says Dr. Grennan, “We had letters of support from the OHTN indicating that they would continue to provide support for training and for different aspects of the research program. I think the OHTN is inextricably linked to the history of making this kind of care possible in Ontario.”

We’re proud of our researchers, and excited about the new findings, treatments and approaches these grants will generate. The funded projects are all long-term. Stay tuned: we will keep you posted about the insights and discoveries as they emerge from the research.

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