Fordham University has been awarded a $1 million grant by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to identify sociocultural barriers that interfere with the ability of Hispanic HIV-positive patients in New York City to take their HIV medications.
“Taking one’s medications is one of the most important behaviors patients can engage in,” said Monica Rivera Mindt, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, who will serve as principal investigator on the grant project. “But researchers have been looking at the problem of adherence without a focus on sociocultural factors among Hispanic HIV-positive patients. The ultimate goal of this study is to eventually develop culturally tailored interventions to improve health among this group [of Hispanics].
“Right now, something as simple as how to read a pill bottle may be serving as a barrier.”
The federal funding is part of the National Institutes of Health’s Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award program and is the first of its kind awarded to Fordham University. Often referred to as a K23 grant, the funding is designed to support the career development of investigators who focus on patient-oriented research and who show promise as independent researchers.
The study will involve 100 HIV-positive Hispanic adult patients and 50 HIV-positive non-Hispanic white adult patients. Participants will be given pill bottles with a Medication Event Monitoring System embedded inside the cap of each bottle that will keep track of when and how often participants open and close their medicines, Rivera Mindt said.
Patients will also be screened for acculturation, health knowledge, literacy and other areas. The study’s design will allow the investigators to compare adherence to the drug regimens between the two groups and to measure both health and neuropsychological outcomes.
Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of the Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and associate vice president for academic affairs, said the project represents a major opportunity for Fordham to engage in much-needed research.
“This award demonstrates that Fordham has achieved a new level of research sophistication,” Busch said. “[Rivera Mindt] worked . . . with several faculty members in the Department of Psychology to develop this proposal and to tailor it to the expectations we have for the involvement of students in research.”
Rivera Mindt said that Hispanics, particularly those of Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry in New York City, have been among the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. Most of the research involving Hispanics and HIV/AIDS, however, has focused on people of Mexican descent, she said.
“Culturally, it is not clear that you can generalize findings from one Hispanic subculture to another,” she said. “This study will shine a light on groups who have been disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
Rivera Mindt said she developed an early interest in HIV/AIDS issues when a cousin died of the disease at a young age. Her role as a clinical neuropsychologist led her to pursue research that would merge her personal interest in helping improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS and her research interest in neurologic disorders.
Co-investigators on the study are Susan Morgello, M.D., professor of pathology and neuroscience at Mt. Sinai Department School of Medicine; Julia Arnsten, M.D, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center; and Anna Abraido-Lanza, Ph.D., associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences doctoral students Alyssa Arentoft and Kaiori Kubo Germano, as well as Fordham Collage at Lincoln Center junior Erica D’Aquila, will serve as research assistants.