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A better understanding of acute HIV infection is essential to public health, impacting both HIV transmission and potential advances in HIV cure clinical research. Acute HIV infection refers to the earliest stages of HIV infection, the short window of time right after a person becomes infected when they are most infectious. Individuals diagnosed and treated during acute infection are an important population for HIV cure research.

Early phase HIV cure research protocols are both novel (and potentially riskier) to participants. Research done with this population presents a unique set of challenges as an acute diagnosis in itself may contribute to strong emotional and behavioral responses. Faced with new HIV-positive identities and increased transmission risk to their sex partners, acutely diagnosed patients may face greater stress and confusion as they navigate decisions related to medical care and research participation. This intersection of public health interest, HIV cure scientific value, and patients’ personal challenges indicates a compelling need to consider whether acute HIV experiences merit special ethical guidance for research.

The aims of this project are three-fold:

  1. Examine the experiences of acutely infected research participants involved in HIV treatment and cure-related studies using anthropological methods.
  2. Compare perceptions of risks and benefits of clinical HIV trial participation between acute and chronic HIV diagnosed research subjects.
  3. Develop a set of ethical recommendations that address specific challenges related to identifying, recruiting, and retaining AHI diagnosed individuals in HIV clinical (especially cure) research.

This project is conducted at three sites: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University Medical Center, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, UK.

Research team members:

  • Stuart Rennie (Principal Investigator), Assistant Professor, UNC Center for Bioethics, Department of Social Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Adam Gilbertson (Co-Principal Investigator) Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNC Center for Bioethics, Department of Social Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Joe Tucker (Co-investigator) Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of UNC Project-China, Department of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Julie Fox (Co-Investigator) HIV Consultant, King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, United Kingdom
  • Audrey Pettifor (Co-investigator) Associate Professor, Dept. of Epidemiology, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • JoAnn Kuruc (Co-investigator) Clinical Program Director, UNC HIV Cure Center at the UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Kate MacQueen (Consultant) Senior Social Scientist, Global Health Research, FHI 360
  • Kara McGee (Consultant) Physician Assistant, Duke University Medical Center
  • Alice Sharp (Research Manager) Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital London, UK
  • Liz Kelly (Graduate Research Assistant) UNC-Chapel Hill

Funded by NIAID, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Grant number 1R21AI120549-01A1.