November 4, 2021

Wayne State researcher Dr. Karen MacDonell to co-lead $6.5 million behavioral health project to help youth with HIV lead healthier lives

Wayne State University will collaborate with researchers at five other universities on a Florida-based multi-year research project supported by a $6.5 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study self-management and alcohol use among 18- to 29-year-olds living with HIV. 

The collaboration for “SHARE Program: Innovations in Translational Behavioral Science to Improve Self-management of HIV and Alcohol Reaching Emerging Adults” will include researchers from WSU, the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Nova Southeastern University, the University of Michigan and the University of California at San Diego. The five-year engagement began in September, and will be divided into three projects: defining new intervention strategies; engaging youth; and sustaining behavioral change through interventions.

Karen MacDonell, Ph.D.

Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences faculty member Karen MacDonell, Ph.D., is one of two principal investigators for the overall P01-funded center, along with Sylvie Naar, Ph.D., a former WSU faculty member who is a distinguished endowed professor at Florida State University College of Medicine's Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine.

Dr. MacDonell, an associate professor in the WSU Division of Behavioral Science, is also leading one of the research projects being conducted as part of the grant.

“We hope to be able to better engage youth living with HIV in behavioral interventions to help them better manage their HIV, reduce alcohol use and live healthier lives. Because the center is virtual, we hope to be able to bring in youth in more rural communities who often are excluded from HIV research,” Dr. MacDonell said. “If we’re successful, our work with result in a better understanding of the needs of youth living with HIV, as well as youth-friendly programs specifically designed for the needs of this population.”

Participants will be recruited through social media, and research activities will be held virtually.

“As a developmental psychologist, it is important to me that intervention programs are designed to meet the specific needs of adolescents and young adults,” she said. “This is not a new area, but the collaborations across Florida are a new partnership. HIV has hit the South particularly hard, so Florida is a logical place for a research center with statewide reach.”

The three research projects – Define, Engage and Sustain – represent different stages on the translational spectrum and target different core competencies, supported by two cores: Community Engagement Core and Data Science Core.

SHARE also has a high potential for implementation beyond Florida and across the United States. Adolescents and emerging adults living with HIV tend to have more difficulty managing HIV compared to people of other ages, Dr. MacDonell said. 

“They also have the highest rates of alcohol use and abuse compared to people with HIV of other ages.  Alcohol use has been found to have negative effects on mental and physical health for people living with HIV,” she added.

The team based at WSU will also include Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Behavioral Health Sciences Angulique Outlaw, Ph.D., and research assistant Jessica Durkin.

The grant number for this National Institutes of Health award is P01AA029547.

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