Researching infectious disease with a worldwide scope

HIV testing

By James Neaton

The University of Minnesota is a leader in several areas of global health, from emerging infectious diseases to long-standing issues such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. A prime example of this leadership is the research carried out by the International Network for Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT), a network involving several hundred sites in 37 countries throughout the world who take part in clinical trials for the treatment of HIV. The leadership group and statistical and data management center for INSIGHT is located in the U of M’s Division of Biostatistics of the School of Public Health. INSIGHT is funded largely by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), though several governments around the world also contribute research funding.

Today, more than 35 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS and more than 39 million have died of AIDS-related causes since the first cases were reported in 1981. While the disease exists all over the world, the majority of people living with HIV live in low-and middle-income countries; more than two-thirds (70 percent) live in sub-Saharan Africa. Only 12.9 million (37 percent) of people living with the virus have access to antiretroviral therapy (a treatment regimen that usually consists of three or more drugs that can effectively suppress the HIV virus in the blood). These sobering data illustrate the scale and scope of HIV, which remains one of the world’s largest global health crises.

Through INSIGHT, an interdisciplinary team of U of M researchers collaborate with hundreds of investigators around the world through coordinating centers in London (MRC Clinical Trials Unit), Copenhagen (University of Copenhagen), Sydney (Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales) and Washington D.C., (Veterans Affairs Medical Center and George Washington University). U of M researchers, together with investigators from these international coordinating centers and from hundreds of clinical sites around the world, have designed and completed the largest HIV treatment trials done to date. Continue reading