About Research Winter 2022


Message from the ERC-CFAR Director, Harris Goldstein, M.D.
Harris Goldstein

Welcome to the Winter 2022 issue of the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY (ERC)-CFAR Newsletter. This newsletter serves to inform and update ERC-CFAR members about ERC-CFAR Cores, Scientific Working Group (SWG), resources and activities to enable them to leverage this support for the advancement and acceleration their research programs. In addition, the ERC-CFAR Newsletter informs ERC-CFAR members about the accomplishments and research programs of our colleagues to stimulate further research collaborations and interactions among ERC-CFAR investigators in across our three institutions.

Despite the disruptive impact of COVID-19, 2021 has been a very productive year for the ERC-CFAR and its members. This past year, based on feedback from our members, an outstanding team of Einstein, Rockefeller and CUNY ERC-CFAR Core and SWG leaders worked together and developed and implemented a vision for the ERC-CFAR to support our future research efforts: to evaluate and implement new strategies to reduce HIV transmission, improve access and adherence to HIV prevention and treatment, promote sustained viral suppression, reduce HIV-associated morbidity and eradicate HIV reservoirs. This was incorporated into our CFAR renewal application that was submitted last July. We were very excited and gratified to learn that our application received an outstanding priority score that was in the funding range. In addition, the NIH confirmed that our total AIDS funding research base was sufficient for us to move up to a tier 2 CFAR which increased our annual NIH funding to $2.25M total cost (direct + indirect). This increased funding will enable us to expand our CFAR Core services and award more pilot project grants to fund promising work by our ESIs.

The NIH has just sent us a request for JIT information and, with the usual caveats pending receipt of a Notice of Award, we anticipate being refunded for another 5 years. I thank our ERC-CFAR Core and SWG leaders for the outstanding job they did writing up their sections for the grant application and to all of you for your help and support. I look forward to continuing to work with everyone in pursuit of our common goal of catalyzing the research needed to develop, evaluate and implement successful strategies to end the HIV epidemic.

Hormonal Influences on the Gut Microbiome and Cardiovascular Disease in Women with HIV
Brandilyn Peters-Samuelsons

Brandilyn Peters-Samuelson, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein, was awarded a K01 grant from the NIH for a study titled "Menopause and hormonal influences on the gut microbiome for CVD risk in HIV". This grant will provide ~$690,000 of funding over 4 years to use the ongoing Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) to examine the relationship between sex hormones, the gut microbiome of menopausal women both living with and without HIV, and their association with subclinical cardiovascular disease (CVD). The research may lead to new therapies that could, by targeting the gut microbiome, help lower CVD risk in post-menopausal women with or without HIV. You can read more about the study here.

Medical Cannabis to Treat HIV-Associated Pain
Deepika Slawek

Deepika Slawek, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Einstein, was awarded a K23 grant from the NIH titled “The impact of medical cannabis on pain and inflammation in people living with HIV,” to study how medical cannabis can treat HIV associated pain. People living with HIV (PLWH) have a high burden of pain, most often neuropathy, due to nerve damage. Pain management often involves opioids and other medications with negative side effects, which has prompted interest in alternative therapies such as medical cannabis. Pain and HIV are qualifying conditions for medical cannabis use in most states. Cannabis could reduce pain in PLWH through multiple mechanisms such as reducing inflammation and improving psychological symptoms. However, no studies have evaluated the impact of medical cannabis on neuropathic pain, inflammation, psychological symptoms, and adverse events such as treatment adherence and failure. The National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded Dr. Slawek, a four-year, $776,700 grant to conduct a clinical trial with 100 PLWH who have chronic neuropathic pain and are in the Medical Cannabis Program at Montefiore. The study will examine how medical cannabis products with differing THC and CBD concentrations that are legally dispensed in New York affect neuropathic pain, inflammation, and adverse events. You can read more about the study here.

It is very important for the NIH to document the impact of the CFAR program that the Einstein-CUNY-Rockefeller Center for AIDS Research is acknowledged in publications, presentations and posters where the ERC-CFAR played any role, no matter how minor, in supporting these studies. For future publications, please use the following language to acknowledge the CFAR. "Research reported in this was supported by the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research, an NIH-funded program under award number P30AI124414 which is supported by the following NIH Institutes and Centers: NIAID, NCI, NICHD, NHLBI, NIDA, NIMH, NIA, NIDDK, NIMHD, NIDCR, NINR, FIC and OAR." Alternatively, you can just list as the Einstein-Rockefeller-CUNY Center for AIDS Research (grant P30AI124414).

For slides or posters, the following ERC-CFAR logo acts as acknowledgement. Please right click on the logo to save it for future use.


Jaqueline Achkar

In a recent study titled “Plasma Host Protein Biomarkers Correlating with Increasing Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Infection Activity Prior to Tuberculosis Diagnosis in People Living with HIV,” published in EBioMedicine, Jacqueline Achkar, M.D., M.Sc., Professor of Medicine, and of Microbiology & Immunology at Einstein, and colleagues at Einstein and South Africa identified plasma host proteins that correlate with increasing M. tuberculosis burden and can predict TB in PLWH up to two years prior to the development of active TB. These results could inform diagnostics that could detect TB much earlier than is currently possible which could improve the optimal timing of antituberculous therapy and reduce morbidity. The first authorship is shared between Sarah Singer, a former research assistant in Dr. Achkar’s lab and now a Ph.D. student at Einstein, and Okechuwu Ndumnego a post-doctoral fellow in South Africa, mentored by Dr. Achkar and supported by the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE). Dr. Ryung Kim from Dept. of Epidemiology & Population Health (Biostatistics) worked with the team on the analysis, and Dr. Kathryn Anastos, professor of Medicine, Epidemiology & Population Health, and Obstetrics & Gynecology was the team’s US/WHIS cohort collaborator.

Tobacco smoking cessation in PLWH.
Jonathan Shuter

In several recently published articles, multiple ERC-CFAR investigators collaborated on studies regarding tobacco use and HIV. A large team of collaborators recently published an article in the Journal of Smoking Cessation titled “Behavioral and Genetic Factors Associated With Successful Long-Term Cessation In Persons With HIV Who Smoke Cigarettes”. Drs. Jonathan Shuter, H. Dean Hosgood, Ryung S. Kim, Kenny Ye, Cristina Montagna, and Jidong Shan, all from Einstein and Andrea H. Weinberger, from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, collaborated to discover that certain behavioral factors, like lower anxiety scores and lower drug and alcohol use correlated with long-term cessation of smoking. This was also the first study to correlate genetics with successful cessation of smoking in people living with HIV. The ERC-CFAR leadership would like to thank the authors for acknowledging the ERC-CFAR in their paper.

Another study from ERC-CFAR member Dr. Jonathan Shuter, Professor of Medicine at Einstein and multiple collaborators from Georgetown University and Massachusetts General Hospital was published in Lancet HIV and titled “Harm Reduction Techniques For Smokers Living With HIV”. They took an expansive view of harm reduction and focused not only on cutting down cigarette intake, but also on reducing the health effects of smoking by increasing lung cancer screenings as well as controlling other cardiovascular risk factors, especially hypertension and hyperlipidaemia. The ERC-CFAR leadership would like to thank the authors for acknowledging the ERC- CFAR in their paper.

Four ERC-CFAR members, Denis Nash, Ph.D., M.P.H., distinguished Professor of Implementation Science in Population Health, Associate Director of the ERC-CFAR, Kathryn Anastos, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology & Public Health, Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health at Einstein, and Director of the ERC-CFAR Clinical and Translational Science Core, Marcel Yotebieng, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor of Medicine at Einstein, and Adebola Adedimeji, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., M.S., Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Population Health and Division Head, Division of Health Behavior Research & Implementation Science at Einstein, collaborated with global researchers to study depression in PLWH in Cameroon. Their paper, published in AIDS and Behavior titled “Depressive Symptoms, Gender, Disclosure, and HIV Care Stage Among People Living with HIV in Cameroon” showed a correlation between depressive symptoms and recent ART initiation, with no significant differences among gender or HIV disclosure.

The authors studied data from over 12,000 people with HIV who were enrolled in International epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA) Cameroon between 2016 and 2020. They stratified the prevalence of depressive symptoms between those not yet on antiretroviral therapy (ART), recent ART initiators, and ART users. The prevalence of depressive symptoms was 11.9%, 22.0%, and 8.7% among PLWH not yet on ART, recent ART initiators, and ART users, respectively. ART users had significantly lower prevalence of depressive symptoms compared to recent ART initiators. Neither gender nor HIV disclosure modified the effect measure of the relationship between HIV care stage and depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms were commonly reported among this group of PLWH and were associated with recent ART initiation. The authors found that integration of screening and treatment of depression into HIV care should be prioritized and may be particularly relevant for PLWH initiating ART.

Felipe Diaz-Griffero

A research team led by Dr. Felipe Diaz-Griffero, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Elsie Wachtel Faculty Scholar at Einstein, recently published a paper in Scientific Reports demonstrating that overexpression of the SUN1 protein blocks HIV-1 infection. Building on previous research that showed the SUN2 protein interacted with the HIV-1 core, the authors demonstrated that the SUN1 protein also interacts with the capsid in the nuclear compartment to achieve HIV-1 restriction. Through in-vitro experimentation, their work showed that HIV-1 restriction by overexpression of SUN1/2 is mediated by the interaction of the N-terminal domain of SUN1/2 with the HIV-1 core and occurs in the nuclear compartment.

Felipe Diaz-Griffero

Felipe Diaz-Griffero

Two ERC-CFAR members from Einstein, Harris Goldstein, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and of Microbiology & Immunology, Associate Dean for Scientific Resources, Charles Michael Chair in Autoimmune Diseases, and Director of the ERC-CFAR and Steve Almo, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Biochemistry, Wollowick Family Foundation Chair in Multiple Sclerosis and Immunology, Co-Director of the ERC-CFAR Biomarkers and Advanced Technology Core and Director of the Einstein Macromolecular Therapeutics Developmental Facility collaborated on a recent paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation titled “T cell receptor–targeted immunotherapeutics drive selective in vivo HIV- and CMV-specific T cell expansion in humanized mice.

They designed synTacs, infusible biologics that recapitulate antigen-specific T cell activation signals delivered by antigen-presenting cells by using dimeric Fc-domain scaffolds linking CD28- or 4-1BB-specific ligands to HLA-A2 MHC molecules covalently tethered to HIV- or CMV-derived peptides. Treatment of HIV-infected donor PBMCs with synTacs bearing HIV- or CMV-derived peptides induced vigorous and selective ex vivo expansion of highly functional HIV- and/or CMV-specific CD8+ T cells, respectively, with potent antiviral activities. Notably, these expanded HIV- or CMV-specific CD8+ T cells directed potent in vivo suppression of HIV or CMV infections in humanized mice, providing strong rationale for synTac-based approaches as a therapeutic strategy to cure HIV and treat CMV and other viral infections. Read more about their study here. The ERC-CFAR leadership would like to thank the authors for acknowledging the ERC- CFAR in their paper.

Cognitive Interviewing Lab
Are your survey items capturing what you intended? The Cognitive Interviewing Lab (CI Lab) at the Behavioral & Implementation Science Core can help. Cognitive interviewing is a tool that can be used to pre-test new survey items, tailor existing items to new contexts, and evaluate survey administration techniques. At the CI Lab, we can support investigators with a broad range of applied cognitive interviewing needs, from study design to development of CI data collection tools and analysis. If you prefer to build capacity among your own research staff in CI skills, we offer an interactive training program that can be tailored to your specific project.

Recent Working Group Meetings
Gabbay Sharma

Gabbay Sharma

The SWG for Mental Health and HIV directed by Drs. Vilma Gabbay and Anjali Sharma had a meeting 2/8/22 that was attended by almost 20 participants including Einstein, CUNY and Columbia investigators and a member of our Community Participatory Program. The participants heard presentations from two researchers: Aaron S. Breslow, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Natalia Zotova, Ph.D., Research Coordinator in the Department of Medicine, both at Einstein. Dr. Breslow presented his results from a pilot study addressing the treatment of depression later in life for women with HIV. Older women living with HIV are a high-risk group for depression, but most social services often target gay cis men, leaving them vulnerable. In MWCCS, depression was associated with 3x greater mortality among HIV+ women on ART and 7x greater among women not on ART. The pilot intervention will adapt and evidenced based cognitive-behavioral intervention to an online, teletherapy method to target depression. Dr. Zotova presented results from a study investigating whether PHQ-9 is an effective tool for identifying depression among people with HIV in Africa. The PHQ-9 is a commonly used screening tool to assess intensity of depressive symptoms, but it may not be the most appropriate tool in for PLWH. The study showed that the PHQ-9 had high specificity but low sensitivity to diagnose MDD in PLWH. This was followed by an active discussion by the participants. ERC-CFAR members interested in participating in this SWG or receiving feedback on their research related to HIV and Mental health should contact Drs. Vilma Gabbay or Anjali Sharma.

  • March 25, 2022 - Dr. Tashuna Albritton Ph.D., Assistant Medical Professor, Department of Community Health and Social Medicine, CUNY School of Medicine "New York City, Black and Latino Adolescents and PrEP Uptake Feasibility" and Dr. Maureen Charron Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Biochemistry, and Obstetrics & Gynecology & Womens Health and Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine "Inflammatory Changes in T Cells Associated with Weight Gain After Switching to INSTI-Based ART"
  • April 8 , 2022 - Dr. Chloe Teasdale Ph.D. MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Dr. David Hanna Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • April 22, 2022 - Dr. Laura Cheney MD, Ph.D., Instructor, Dept. of Medicine (ID) & Dept. of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Dr. Laurie Bauman Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics & Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • May 6, 2022 - Dr. Matthew Akiyama MD MSc., Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Dr. Brandilyn Peters-Samuelson Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Please keep an eye on your inbox for the Seminar Titles, Zoom codes, EEDS codes and more information about the individual seminars


  • Several NIH CFAR co-funding institutes and centers have funding opportunities announcements (FOAs) listed here.

New NIH OAR Early Career Investigator Resources: Supporting a Diverse Next Generation of HIV Investigators

  • The NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR) has released new resources for HIV early career investigators. The resources are centralized in a new website that features several grant opportunities and training, and capacity-building programs. These resources are available to support and promote a diverse next generation of HIV Investigators.


  • In December 2021, AIDSVu, a project of Emory University, Gilead Sciences, and the Emory CFAR, released interactive maps and data visualizing the HIV epidemic in the United States at the state and county level for 2019, as well as city-level data and maps for 15 U.S. cities. This brings the total number of cities on AIDSVu to 50. Read the AIDSVu press release to see how you can visualize the impact of HIV on local communities and how this resource might be helpful in your research.

NIH Health Disparities Research Institute

  • August 15-19, 2022
  • Applications due March 14, 2022
  • The HDRI aims to support the research career development of promising early-career minority health/health disparities research scientists and stimulate research in the disciplines supported by health disparities science.

The Fordham HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI)

  • Takes place July 11-18, 2022
  • Applications are due March 15, 2022
  • RETI offers ethics training and a $30,000 small grant award to conduct a mentored research project (MRP) that will contribute to evidence-based HIV and drug abuse research ethics policies and procedures. RETI fellows make a 2-year commitment that includes two in-person summer programs in 2022 and 2023 including fully funded travel, lodging, and meals.

RFA Small Clinical Trials Advancing HIV Remission and Cure

  • The AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network in collaboration with the NIAID Division of AIDS (DAIDS) has developed a new pathway for the conduct of small experimental trials that aim to advance efforts related to HIV remission and cure utilizing the infrastructure of the ACTG Network.
  • Applications are due April 1, 2022.

Click here for additional funding opportunities available from the National Institutes of Health.

Send an email to ERC-CFAR Dial 718.430.2000 Link to Einstein website Link to The Rockefeller University website Link to CUNYwebsite Send an email to Georgia Veroutis Send an email to Sonya Rusanov