Florida AIDS Institute Brings Together Researchers with New Program
There’s no longer a need for HIV researchers in Florida to reinvent the wheel — unless they want to.
It’s called the Florida Consortium for HIV/AIDS Research (FCHAR), and it’s here to bring scientists together, like the community they are.
From webinars to brochures to databases, the consortium aims at mitigating some of the time and dollar restraints that many researchers face by giving them the tools that have already been invented, and the know-how that’s already been tested.
FCHAR’s HIV/AIDS Research Coordinator Spencer Lieb said the idea is to get people to work together and share what works, and what doesn’t.
“The emphasis here is on collaboration,” he said. “Without collaboration, you’re not going to attract as many funds from the government.”
Up until now, Lieb said, research on HIV/AIDS has been done in what he called silos, or secluded environments where a scientist may waste time figuring out a foundation for research (like a test group) when that foundation was already created by another researcher, a mere few hours away. FCHAR currently has about 110 researchers, ranging in specialties from virology to basic science.
For example, there are studies in South Florida right now pertaining to the prevalence of HIV in homeless populations. Another example would be University of Miami’s research on a phase one vaccine for HIV that’ll act therapeutically. The results of these findings, and very well the information that was gathered, can now be shared among scientists looking into similar things. Lab results is another focus of FCHAR — both providers and patients often times don’t understand the results of various tests, Lieb said.
A state-wide AIDs research inventory has about 450 current or ongoing studies, allowing researchers to see common problems.
“Our mission is to impact social change,” said Michael Ruppal, the Florida AIDS Institute’s executive director. “In Florida alone, just in talking to the universities we work with, we found there was an array of studies being conducted in partnerships with universities all over the country. There are universities in our state they could have partnered with.”
These partnerships can help Florida save research dollars for more studies and ultimately results in bigger and better results. And it helps in getting the government or other agencies to grant money to a partnered study.
“It’s all about getting the right people at the right time to sit around and talk about the right thing,” Ruppal said. “When you join two or three universities together, it simplifies those things — everyone’s talking the same language.”
Spencer Lieb reminisced to January’s symposium in Orlando, the second time that it occurred, allowing researchers to meet face-to-face.
“Those were both educational in terms of informing ourselves of what kind of research was going on around the state,” Lieb said. “It helped us break down some walls of competitiveness around the state.”
Finally, FCHAR is a sign to other states that Florida is an HIV/AIDS force to be reckoned with.
“It also outs us in the map in the research community — that Florida’s got its act together,” Ruppal said. “And not just talking about it, we’re actually making those frontline impacts.”
And the frontline is the bottom line for this endeavor — it’s the front of the struggle, where an HIV patient or someone coming in to get tested connects with the scientific community and receives the most up-to-date information possible.
To learn more, go to www.fchar.org.