News release

News Release Archive

Office of External Affairs

Mission magazine

Vital Signs

University page

Federal government selects San Antonio for STD research center (1-24-00)

A $5.5 million research center operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is boosting efforts to understand and prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in South Texas.

The Health Science Center was one of only six U.S. centers to be selected by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as a Sexually Transmitted Diseases Cooperative Research Center. The $5.5 million NIAID grant, officially awarded in November, is supporting research studies across several disciplines over a four-year period.

Study areas include the long-term effects of behavioral interventions in at-risk minority women, psychosocial and situational factors associated with high-risk behavior over time, incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in minority populations, effects of STDs on pregnant women, long-term effects of sexual abuse on disease incidence and high-risk behavior, and the molecular biology and pathogenesis (origination of infection) of STDs.

"The San Antonio center represents an integrative and innovative effort to investigate important emerging causes of sexually transmitted diseases," said Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D., project director, who is professor and chairman of microbiology at the Health Science Center. "It combines research and clinical care strategies with behavioral interventions and epidemiological analyses in an underserved population of minority women who attend a dedicated research clinic overseen by the center."

Rochelle Shain, Ph.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is the center co-director and co-principal investigator, and leads a project exploring long-term effects of behavioral intervention in minority women. "The targeted patient population, composed of Mexican- and African-American women, is both understudied and disproportionately affected by STDs," she said. "We oversee a dedicated STD clinic, called Project SAFE, which permits delivery of consistent quality health care as well as research for a predominantly young population (54 percent under 20 years of age and 80 percent under 25 years)."

Project SAFE is a continuation of behavioral intervention studies conducted by Dr. Shain and colleagues in more than 800 minority women at risk for STD infection. In a prior study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers found that intensive, culturally relevant behavioral counseling in small groups resulted in reduced rates of STD reinfection in at-risk women.

Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis and AIDS affect millions in the United States. The lesser-known trichomoniasis is a recurrent vaginal disease affecting an estimated 4 million to 10 million women nationwide. It is the number one non-viral STD worldwide. "Our goals are to understand the biology and disease potential of pathogens for STDs that are considered to be emerging threats, and to develop strategies to prevent and control these infections," Dr. Baseman said.

The four primary projects of the center, and the principal investigators on each, are:

  • Examination of the biology of infection by T. vaginalis, the bacterium that causes trichomoniasis (John F. Alderete, Ph.D., professor of microbiology);
  • Determination of the prevalence and virulence potential of the bacterium M. genitalium in the study population at the Project SAFE center (Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D.);
  • Long-term evaluation of culturally relevant intervention modules and clinical counseling on behavioral modification and STD incidence in minority women (Rochelle Shain, Ph.D.); and
  • Research of the clinical, biological and behavioral aspects o f T. vaginalis infections, and evaluation of the risk of adverse outcomes in women with STDs during pregnancy (Jeanna Piper, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology).

In addition, a Statistics/Computing Core supports the center. The principal investigator is Sondra Perdue, Dr.P.H.

The Project SAFE studies are conducted with assistance from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and its director, Fernando Guerra, M.D. Other center investigators are Jane Dimmitt-Champion, Ph.D.; Subramania Dhandayuthapani, Ph.D.; and Oxana Musatovova, Ph.D. Project SAFE is a private downtown setting in which women can feel comfortable seeking help, Dr. Shain said.

STD incidence is substantially higher among African Americans and Hispanics than among Whites. AIDS rates, for example, have been found to be 6 times higher in African Americans than Whites and 3 times higher in Hispanics, according to literature compiled by the researchers. Ethnic differences in AIDS rates are even more dramatic for women—in 1996, national AIDS rates were 17 and 6 times higher for African-American and Hispanic women, respectively, than for White women.

The new center’s unique strength is its mingling of basic researchers, clinical researchers and social scientists to attack the issues of STDs. "This is a wonderful marriage of expertise from the Health Science Center and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District," Dr. Baseman said.

The new grant places the Health Science Center in select company. The other STD cooperative research centers are at the University of Washington, Seattle; the University of Indiana, Indianapolis; Boston University; the University of Alabama, Birmingham; and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Contact: Will Sansom