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National Institute on Drug Abuse Awards Chika Chuku Diversity Grant to Study Correlates of Stimulant Use and Viral Loads Suppression in Men who have Sex with Men

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded Chika Chuku, a second-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, a $64,930 diversity supplement to begin one of the first projects that will examine the intersection of sexual minority and ethnic minority stress processes as correlates of stimulant use and decreased odds of viral load suppression in men who have sex with men.

To promote diversity in health-related research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards research supplements to students, post doctorates and investigators from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research. Various institutes housed under the NIH, including NIDA, participate in the program. 

“I was really excited when I found out the diversity supplement had been funded because as someone who loves to learn, I was eager to begin my career in research, gain experience and acquire important skills as a pre-doctoral student,” Chuku said. “I’ve always been passionate about working with minority populations, and this project gives me the opportunity to learn more about the intersectionality between two minority populations, such as sexual minorities and ethnic minorities, and some of the challenges they may face regarding HIV medication adherence.”

Chuku’s study is a part of the Miller School of Medicine-led “Supporting Treatment Adherence for Resilience and Thriving (START)”—an active NIDA-funded project on a mobile health (mHealth) intervention that targets HIV-positive and stimulant-using men who have sex with men.

The cross-sectional study led by Chuku will be integrated into baseline assessments from the START study to examine the associations of sexual minority stress with stimulant use and viral load suppression, and to determine if the associations of sexual minority stress with stimulant drug use and viral load suppression are moderated by ethnic minority stress.

START, specifically, is led by Adam Carrico, Ph.D., director and professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences’ Division of Prevention Science and Community Health, Keith Horvath, Ph.D., an associate professor at San

Diego State University, and Sabina Hirshfield, Ph.D., an associate professor from the State University of New York – Downstate. Dr. Carrico serves as one of Chuku’s faculty mentors.

START is focusing on utilizing positive affect to test the efficacy of the mHealth intervention in improving viral load suppression—at six months—as well as determining if any gains are achieved at 12 months. The team is also assessing the cost and cost-effectiveness of START in achieving and/or maintaining viral suppression.

“It is wonderful to see START serve as a platform for supporting advanced research and training of some of our most promising doctoral students like Chika,” Dr. Carrico said. “It has been exciting to see Chika successfully compete for this diversity supplement and I am eager to see what new directions she will pursue from this project.”

Without the supportive guidance of Chuku’s mentors, such as Dr. Carrico, Sanisha Dale, Ph.D., assistant professor in psychology at the University of Miami, Dr. Hirshfield and Dr. Horvath, Chuku said that she would not feel as prepared to begin the NIDA-funded project as she does now.

“They have encouraged me to ask as many questions as possible and to never feel like I can’t have a seat at their table,” Chuku said. “Mentorship is a really important part of graduate school that has already helped me gain the confidence and experience I will need in my future endeavors, and I am grateful for that.”

NIDA encourages all diversity supplement recipients to apply for independent funding support within the first two years of being supported by the diversity supplement. One goal of the program is to foster their career trajectory towards independent substance abuse research.

“With this NIDA grant, I am hoping to eventually apply for an F31 grant, which would help me continue the work I’m starting now with intersectionality among Black and Latinx HIV-positive men in particular who use stimulant drugs,” said Chuku.

Written by Amanda Torres
Published on November 3, 2020