TREAT Asia Investigators Selected in Three Rounds of IAS CIPHER Grant Program
Children and adolescents with HIV—especially in resource-limited settings—are often undertreated, and compared with adults, they experience higher rates of complications and death. To help address the unique challenges faced by HIV-positive youth, the International AIDS Society established the Collaborative Initiative for Paediatric HIV Education and Research (CIPHER) Grant Program in 2012. With funding from ViiV Healthcare and Janssen, the program provides early-stage investigators with grants of up to $150,000 for pediatric and adolescent HIV research projects.
Three TREAT Asia investigators from Thailand have been awarded these highly competitive CIPHER grants in the past three years. They are the only researchers from Asia who have so far received these prestigious awards.
The first grant went to pediatrician and researcher Dr. Tavitiya Sudjaritruk of Chiang Mai University in 2014 to study nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in youth infected with HIV since birth. Her work has already resulted in a monitoring strategy that is being used in her clinic. She presented some of her findings in 2015 at the 7th International Workshop on HIV Pediatrics and the 8th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. Additionally, in 2016, she presented the results of another study under the TREAT Asia Pediatric HIV Observational Database (TApHOD) at the 8th International Workshop on HIV Pediatrics, where she received the best oral presentation award. Dr. Sudjaritruk recently completed a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. Her dissertation focused on adverse bone health and vitamin D deficiency among perinatally HIV-infected Asian adolescents.
“In my practice, I have seen that non-communicable diseases associated with HIV infection and antiretroviral treatment, such as adverse bone health, cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases, and other metabolic and endocrinological disorders, are becoming the real challenges in taking care of children who have to live with HIV and experience life-long treatment. As they grow into adolescence, non-adherence to medications becomes another challenge,” said Dr. Sudjaritruk. “I hope that my studies will point out the impact and burden of these problems in our country and region, both to healthcare providers and to policy makers who develop screening and treatment guidelines. The goal is to diagnose and provide appropriate interventions at an early stage of complications.”
The CIPHER-supported study of Dr. Suvaporn Anugulruengkitt, who received a grant in 2015, aims to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission in women diagnosed with HIV during late pregnancy by using a three-drug antiretroviral regimen (zidovudine/lamivudine/nevirapine). Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be more difficult when treatment begins later in pregnancy. Dr. Anugulruengkitt is based at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Dr. Watsamon Jantarabenjakul, also of Chulalongkorn University, recently received her CIPHER grant at this year’s International AIDS Conference. She will study neurodevelopmental and neuroanatomical outcomes in young children infected with HIV at birth and treated with ART, compared to children exposed to HIV but not infected.
All of the Thai researchers are being mentored by prominent pediatric HIV researcher and TREAT Asia network investigator Dr. Thanyawee Puthanakit of Chulalongkorn University. Dr. Puthanakit has studied prevention of vertical transmission of HIV, strategies to achieve HIV remission, and long-term complications of children and adolescents. Her work has brought attention to the need for comprehensive care for adolescents, including reproductive health services, and psychosocial support for orphans and children who have experienced HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
“The continuing research of our Thai grantees is vital to improving the care and quality of life of children and adolescents with HIV in resource-limited settings,” said Dr. Puthanakit. “We are grateful to the CIPHER grant program for helping to empower these and other young investigators to conduct high-quality research by providing funding as well as mentoring and networking opportunities with research scientists and physicians in the pediatric HIV field.”
“Drs. Sudjaritruk, Anugulruengkitt, and Jantarabenjakul are really rising stars in the pediatric HIV field,” said CIPHER Manager Marissa Vicari. “Their projects are addressing critical research gaps related to HIV infection and treatment in young populations, and the IAS is very proud to be funding this research. And behind them is a very dedicated mentor, Dr. Thanyawee Puthanakit, who should also be recognized for her work and support of these early-stage investigators.”