November 13, 2020—(BRONX, NY)—A team of scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine has received a five-year, $4.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a research center to investigate HIV- and human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers in Africa.
The HIV-Associated HPV-related Malignancies Research Center will build on Einstein-led efforts that have already improved research, clinical, and laboratory capacity in Rwanda. More than 200,000 people in Rwanda have HIV, and women have a higher burden of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV and which women with HIV are at greater risk of developing, is one of the two most common malignancies among Rwandan women. HPV is also linked to the development of anal, penile, and head and neck cancers.
The grant will enable Einstein researchers and their partners to expand the Rwandan programs and launch similar initiatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These efforts will help improve health outcomes for millions of Africans living with HIV whose incidence of diseases, including cancer, is increasing as they live longer due to effective HIV therapies.
“We aim to develop a cadre of Rwandan and DRC scientific leaders and build the necessary physical and administrative infrastructure to launch and sustain this project,” said Kathryn Anastos, M.D., lead investigator on the grant and a member of the Albert Einstein Cancer Center, which has supported previous work in Rwanda, including efforts to bring Rwandans to the United States to train.
“Our new NIH-funded center in Africa will serve as a national and regional resource hub for research, training, and career development for those studying the epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention, and treatment of HPV-associated malignancies in people living with HIV,” added Dr. Anastos, who is professor of medicine, of epidemiology & population health, and of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health at Einstein and an internist at Montefiore Health System.
Dr. Anastos is recognized internationally for her clinical and investigative work in HIV-infected women, and she has long been involved in leading complex multi-faceted research projects in the United States and Rwanda. Other principal investigators on the grant are Adebola Adedimeji, Ph.D., M.B.A., research associate professor of epidemiology & population heath, and Marcel Yotebieng, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, both from Einstein, and Leon Mutesa, M.D., Ph.D., professor of human genetics and director of the Center for Human Genetics at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences-University of Rwanda. The Einstein team includes more than a dozen other faculty members from a range of departments and specialties, including several from the Albert Einstein Cancer Center. They will partner with three African institutions: University of Rwanda, Rwanda Military Hospital, and Université Protestante au Congo.
The grant will support two research projects. One is the first population-based assessment of the effectiveness of HPV vaccination in women living with HIV. The study also will compare the HPV antibody response of those who received a three-dose vaccination, implemented in 2011, to women who received a two-dose vaccination schedule, starting in 2015. The second project, in its fourth year in Rwanda and new to DRC, will focus on HPV prevalence and disease burden in men who have sex with men (MSM).
Our center will serve as a national and regional resource hub for research, training, and career development for those studying the epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention, and treatment of HPV-associated malignancies in people living with HIV.
Kathryn Anastos, M.D.
“Our studies can help inform national policies on HPV vaccinations for MSM and the development of targeted screening in men who are too old to benefit from vaccination,” said Dr. Yotebieng. “New policies can directly impact the susceptibility of people living with HIV to develop HPV-related malignancies.”
Both projects will include additional studies on the interaction of the gut microbiome with cervical, anal, and penile HPV infections. Central to those studies and the growth of the research center will be the development of laboratory capacity in molecular diagnostics in DRC, and in next generation DNA and RNA sequencing (which is faster and less expensive than older technologies) in Rwanda. In addition, the grant enables scientific leaders to continue their support of master’s and doctorate level education for team members in Africa.
“We are looking forward to training twenty people with our grant, including clinicians and others who will learn research techniques, lab methods, clinical skills, and manuscript writing so they can publish their findings,” said Dr. Adedimeji. “The one-on-one mentoring and development of skills will ensure that the research can be disseminated and expanded over time and that we can reach more people in Rwanda and DRC to help improve their health outcomes.”
The grant, titled “Einstein/Rwanda/DRC Consortium for Research in HIV/HPV/Malignancies,” was funded by the National Cancer Institute, part of the NIH (1U54CA254568-01).