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Local Efforts Underway To Prevent and Treat HIV/AIDS

Dr. Davey Smith, an associate professor of medicine, and Dr. Sheldon Morris, a UC San Diego antiviral researcher, talk to KPBS about HIV prevention.

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While the 19th annual International AIDS Conference is underway in Washington D.C. this week, local researchers are making progress in their HIV research as well.

Dr. Sheldon Morris, an assistant professor of medicine at the UC San Diego Antiviral Research Center, is part of a research project that will explore whether an anti-HIV pill can prevent people at high risk of HIV from becoming infected.

The study will test whether text messaging to remind people to take the anti-HIV medicine Truvada can improve daily compliance.

Morris told KPBS Truvada is "one of our favorite drugs" for treatment of people infected with HIV, but said it also can help prevent HIV infection from ever happening.

"There's been several studies that have proven it's very effective in reducing the chances of someone that's not been infected, who's at risk, reducing their chances of getting HIV," he said.

The challenge, he said, is deciding how to use Truvada to prevent HIV.

"The cost is quite high, who is going to prescribe it, who are you going to give it to, there are a lot of questions," he said.

Dr. Davey Smith, an associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego, said high risk communities in San Diego have been "very generous" about participating in studies. Smith just won a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to track how HIV spreads through a population. He focuses his work on San Diego and the border region and looks for hotspots of HIV outbreaks.

He said the main focus of his research is to figure out the transmission network of HIV in San Diego. To do this, he determines the very basic structure of an HIV virus and uses that as a marker that he can track through a population. This figuring out of the basic structure is called sequencing.

"Everybody has a unique strain (of the virus) and we can figure out the relatedness of these strains to come up with clusters," he said. "Sometimes these clusters grow and expand very quickly, and once we're able to identify that in real time, we can do prevention efforts specifically related to those clusters."

Smith said he hopes his study will help prevent the spread of HIV.

"So we can actually stop it at the very beginning before it spreads to multiple people and gets out of control," he said.


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