Project Description
iTech The UNC/Emory Center for Innovative Technology (iTech) aims to lower the burden of HIV infection by developing and evaluating innovative, interdisciplinary research on technology-based interventions across the HIV prevention and care continuum for at-risk or infected youth aged 15-24 years in the United States. iTech will foster collaborations between academic research institutions, health care providers, impacted communities and youth by providing scientific leadership and expertise on state-of-the-art HIV prevention and care research for adolescents. iTech will serve as the first NIH-funded center to use technology in innovative way to engage HIV infected or at-risk youth. Learn more at
AllyQuest AllyQuest is an interactive mobile phone intervention for HIV+ YMSM that utilizes social networking, game- based mechanics and a story-based framework to guide behavior change. Grounded in Social Cognitive Theory, narrative communication and the principles of persuasive technology, the intervention is designed to capitalize on social involvement and target the identified barriers to care among newly diagnosed youth, namely low HIV literacy, lack of support, and internalized stigma. Eligibility Criteria: 16-24 HIV positive men and transwomen who have sex with men. Project Manager: Kelly Knudtson, MPH. Principal Investigators: Dr. Margo Adams Larsen (PI), Dr. Lisa Hightow-Weidman (m-PI).
Enlaces por la salud Enlaces por la salud is a 5-year HRSA funded statewide initiative to increase the number of Mexican men and Mexican transgender women living with HIV in North Carolina who are engaged in consistent medical care. Bilingual Personal Health Navigators (PHNs) work one-on-one with clients over the course of 6 months to connect individuals to medical care and support services and provide education to increase one’s knowledge of HIV and the medical system and promote health self-management. Topics covered in sessions include: HIV diagnosis concerns, preparing for appointments, communicating with medical providers, social support, relationships and community, disclosure, healthy living, and transitioning to long-term case management. Eligibility Criteria: 18 years or older Mexican or Mexican-American men or transwomen who are HIV positive. Participants must also be newly diagnosed and received results within the past six months or are previously diagnosed over six months ago and have had four or less HIV medical provider visits in the past two years OR there has been a 6 month gap between HIV medical provider visits. Project Managers: Joaquin Carcaño, Kelly Knudtson, MPH.
healthMpowerment (HMP) is an internet HIV/STI intervention for young HIV infected and uninfected black men who have sex with men. Information on HMP covers a range of health and lifestyle topics to support users’ diverse backgrounds and varying need over time. Health and HIV/STI information is provided through multiple site features including: Quizzes, behavioral risk assessments, an “Ask a Doctor” feature, a choose-your-own adventure game and a library of brief educational articles and videos. Participants can explore areas of interest and then use the forums, Ask Dr. W, and Getting Real, which is an artistic space for users to share creative work, for additional information and feedback from other users. Eligibility Criteria: 18-30 year old Black men and transwomen who have sex with men who engage in risky sexual behavior and have access to a mobile device. Project Managers: Karina Soni, Helene Kirschke-Schwartz. Principal Investigators: Dr. Lisa Hightow-Weidman (m-PI), Sarah LeGrand, Kate Meussig.
Bijou Bijou is a six-week self-management program with interactive web and module-friendly modules for HIV-positive YMSM supported by a weekly online support group. The intervention is designed to help YMSM achieve and maintain virologic suppression, improve self-efficacy for care and provider communication, and remain engaged in care. Program participants will include HIV-positive YMSM between the ages of 16-24. Eligibility Criteria: Men who have sex with men between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. They must be enrolled in part D services Project Managers: Helene Kirschke-Schwartz. Principal Invesigators: Lisa Hightow-Weidman.
Tough Talks Tough Talks is a virtually-reality based intervention intended to help young, HIV positive males disclose their status to their sexual partners. Participants use the Tough Talks program and talk to an AI of their choosing and practice disclosure conversations. Currently, the program is text only, but future iterations will include natural language processing and voice processing. Eligibility Criteria: 18 – 30 HIV-positive men and transwomen who have sex with men Project Manager: Kelly Knudtson, MPH. Principal Investigators: Dr. Margo Adams Larsen, Dr. Lisa Hightow-Weidman, Kate Meussig.
Epic Allies Epic Allies is a mobile gaming app that utilizes social media and mini-games to increase adherence to prescribed medication amongst HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Geared toward young men who have sex with men ages 16-24, Epic Allies enables users to set reminders to take their medications and record when they’ve taken them. They’re also encouraged to track their mood and behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, marijuana use and exercise. The app awards virtual medals for use of these features. Users can also send messages that encourage allies to improve their adherence or congratulate them for adherence successes. Epic Allies also features mini-games to help motivate users progress through the game and to unlock new features. Eligibility Criteria: 16-24 HIV-positive men and transwomen who have sex with men with a detectable viral load. Project Managers: Karina Soni, NC Nwoko.
Test Rehearsal Test Rehearsal is a virtual reality software program in which users can go through a simulation of the HIV testing process. The goal is to give youth a method to become more comfortable with getting tested in a non-threatening, non-stigmatizing setting so that they can develop the skills they need to get tested regularly. Focus groups will ensure that the intervention accurately reflects the types of barriers and proposed stress points related to testing. Eligibility Criteria: 1) presumed HIV-negative or unknown by self-report; 2) assigned male at birth; 3) aged 14-19 years old; 4) report engaging or the intent to engage in anal sex with a male partner; and 5) English-speaking. Transgender participants are welcome. Project Managers: Kelly Knudtson, MPH.
Spot Check Spot Check is an NIH-funded study designed to assess the acceptability and feasibility of using self-collected dried blood spots (DBS) as a way to increase the frequency of HIV testing among young, Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in North Carolina. Participants receive a kit in the mail containing everything they need to prepare a DBS themselves and return it to UNC for testing in our Center for AIDS Research (CFAR)’s Retrovirology Core Laboratory. Unlike with currently available, antibody-based “home” HIV tests, Spot Check is looking for direct evidence of the virus in participants’ blood samples by testing for viral RNA. Because antibodies take weeks to develop after infection, checking for RNA narrows the so-called “window” period and enables much earlier diagnosis of HIV – an advantage for anyone at increased risk of infection. Eligibility Criteria: HIV-uninfected Black or African-American men who have sex with men between the ages of 18-30. Project Manager: TBA. Principal Investigators: Christopher Hurt, MD.
Project STYLE (Strength Through Youth Living Empowered) Project STYLE (Strength Through Youth Livin’ Empowered) was a health awareness program out of the University of North Carolina Chapel-Hill that focused on young men who have sex with men (YMSM). It was designed to increase identification, testing, and HIV services for young men of color, particularly Black MSM between the ages of 18-24, who are at risk for or are living with HIV in North Carolina. In conjunction with medical care, patients were also offered appointment reminders by text messaging, prevention counseling, treatment adherence counseling, mental health counseling, and support groups. Research involved documenting the lived experiences of these young men and understanding the social determinants of HIV infection in this community. Learn more about this project: Hightow-Weidman, Lisa B., et al. “Keeping them in “STYLE”: finding, linking, and retaining young HIV-positive black and Latino men who have sex with men in care.” AIDS patient care and STDs 25.1 (2011): 37-45. [PubMed] Read more about STYLE in “How SPNS Initiatives Support the Fight Against HIV Stigma”.