Research Network Focuses on HIV-Positive and At-Risk Youth

Woman Holding AIDS Awareness Ribbon

Youth account for more than 25 percent of all new HIV cases, but the majority of youth do not know their HIV status. The National Institutes of Health recently funded a new cycle of the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN) to address this issue. The ATN is a research network focused on the health and well-being of individuals ages 12 to 24 with HIV or at high risk of becoming HIV-positive, including runaway and homeless youth, youth in foster care, and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

“Participating in this network will allow [youth] access to important cutting-edge research interventions that will inform how to best care for adolescents who are in this risk demographic, who are either at risk to get infected and are negative or those who are HIV-infected,” said Bill Kapogiannis, M.D., ATN co-director and medical officer at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

There are six newly NIH-funded research sites within the ATN:

  • Emory University (Atlanta, GA)
  • Hunter College (New York, NY)
  • Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)
  • Wayne State University (Detroit, MI)

Each of these sites is collaborating with local clinics, organizations, and programs already serving youth with HIV or at risk for becoming HIV-positive to recruit these youth to participate in the ATN.

The ATN conducts studies on how to prevent youth from getting HIV. It also enrolls youth with HIV in treatment studies to improve their health and help prevent the spread of HIV to others.

“It takes a communitywide effort to work with and to make sure our youth are being as healthy as they can,” said Sonia Lee, Ph.D., ATN co-director and NICHD program officer. The ATN relies on its collaborations with community coalitions and community-based organizations to serve and support at-risk youth and those living with HIV. “We’ve worked with them [community-based organizations] to educate about what our network [the ATN] does, what support we provide and making sure we’re all working together,” she added, speaking on the importance of collaborating with community-based organizations.

The ATN offers participating youth other benefits besides improved health. Knowing that at-risk youth are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses or substance use disorders, the ATN also addresses their other needs, such as help with finding or keeping a job, getting an education, and finding peer groups and other social support systems. It does so by connecting participating youth to community-based organizations that provide these services. “Youth at-risk for or with HIV are often marginalized in this country. Providing not only research support, but social support, peer support for these youth is really important,” said Lee.

Building on the network’s previous work conducted from 1994 to 2016, the new ATN sites will begin enrolling youth in early 2017. “We have a long history of funding this work,” said Kapogiannis. “And clearly, we’re committed to this agenda.”

Read NIH’s press release on funding for the ATN.

Additional references: Look for more articles on homeless youth and HIV prevention in our digital library.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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