Leading HIV Prevention and Treatment

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, may no longer be grabbing headlines, but it is still as pervasive as ever, and minority populations are still being hit the hardest.   

“New Jersey has a higher rate of women infected with HIV than many other states, and it disproportionately affects black men who have sex with men,” says Shobha Swaminathan, MD, associate professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) and director of HIV Programs. “The transgender community in particular is one of highest risk groups, with new cases diagnosed in that population at more than three times the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Swaminathan says NJMS continues to be at the forefront in helping to prevent HIV. Physicians in the school’s clinics use what’s known as the HIV treatment cascade to evaluate outcomes, which includes testing, then linking positive individuals to care, retaining that care, prescribing medications and finally viral suppression.  “Our goal is to attain 90 percent success at each of those five points over the next few years,” she says. “And our physicians offer risk-reduction tools for those who are HIV negative, including prescribing the drug PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis.”

Besides helping to prevent HIV close to home, the school is participating in two international clinical trials, designed by the National Institutes of Health. One study, known as Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP), is looking at the role of the broadly neutralizing antibody (bnAb)VRC-01, which is given intravenously every eight weeks. The hope is it will help reduce new cases of HIV. The second trial, known as HPTN083, is comparing two medications: the pill currently approved to prevent HIV and a new integratase inhibitor, known as Cabotegravir, given as a long-acting injection. NJMS is the only site in NJ participating in both. “The results of these trial will potentially give people different choices for preventing HIV,” says Swaminathan.

Swaminathan feels fortunate to be able to use this unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many people. And she’s not about to stop anytime soon. “When you roll up your sleeves and get in there, you realize that the more you do, the more there is to be done,” she says. “That’s why I’ll never stop trying to prevent HIV.”

For more information about HIV treatment and prevention at NJMS, please visit the Clinical Research Center’s webpage. To learn more about how NJMS is helping the transgender community, visit the Rutgers Center for Transgender Health webpage.