For Immediate Release

April 25, 2007

New York, NY – Dr. Nabila El Bassel, professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) and Elwin Wu, assistant professor at CUSSW, have received a three-year, $800,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.  The grant will be used for a training program aimed at facilitating the growth of a new cadre of racial ethnic minority (REM) investigators focused on HIV prevention science with populations facing co-morbid mental health issues.

“There is a need to increase the number of REM investigators conducting behavioral prevention on health disparities on the co-morbidity of HIV, trauma, and related mental health problems,” said Dr. El Bassel. “At the end of 2004, minority groups represented approximately 67% of the persons living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. The demographics of HIV infection indicate that there is a disproportionate impact among ethnic minority groups, yet African American, Latino, or Native American researchers remain substantially underrepresented among NIH-funded investigators.”

In the absence of a cure, HIV prevention remains of critical importance to save lives in the ethnic minority communities affected by the pandemic.  However, few academic researchers have been trained or are experienced in establishing relationships with HIV community-based sites.  Non-REM scientists often face challenges with minority populations due to language and cultural differences, distrust, or lack of culturally appropriate measurements to guide their research.  On the other hand, REM investigators are more likely to have the advantage in accessing their own communities, gain credibility, or possess knowledge and insight on how to address important cultural nuances that may be key to healthy behavior change.

Dr. El Bassel and Dr. Wu have assembled a network of productive and qualified multidisciplinary mentors from Columbia University and a Scientific Advisory Board that include nationally recognized leaders in the field of HIV prevention, intervention, mental health co-morbidity, and health disparities research.  The program and mentors are poised to assist and foster a more rapid development of promising new REM investigators capable of conducting scientifically rigorous, federally-funded health disparities research.

The training program will provide an intensive mentorship program and training infrastructure that fosters long-term research collaboration with senior researchers; year-round multidisciplinary learning opportunities via seminars and workshops; funding for pilot studies; a peer review process to strengthen grant applications prior to submission; and administrative and technical assistance for pilot studies and grant applications for larger studies or career development.  In addition, the program seeks to study and elucidate the key factors that underlie successful career advancement of new REM investigators.  In doing so, the training program aims to advance HIV intervention and prevention science by increasing the contributions to the empirical knowledge base on the design of culturally congruent, theory-driven HIV interventions.

“We will also provide ‘mentorship support at-a-distance.’ Using internet-based technologies, the program can benefit new REM investigators at institutions with strong traditions of minority representation as well as remain geographically close to their communities,” said Dr. Wu. “We do not want to create a brain drain effect. Thus, the program is designed to leverage technological innovations to ensure training reaches beyond the boundaries of Columbia University.”

The multidisciplinary training program will also include Denise Hien, and Allen Zweben at CUSSW, and Dr. Alex Carballo-Diéguez from the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University. The training program will be run in collaboration with the CUSSW Social Intervention Group, Columbia Center for Homelessness Prevention Studies, and the Columbia Center for the Health of Urban Minorities.

For more information, please contact Jeannie Hii at 212-851-2327 or jy2223@columbia.edu.

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