Department of Psychiatry

Penn Behavioral Health

Clinical Assessment Core

The Clinical Assessment Core (CAC) is a research unit of the Penn Mental Health and AIDS Research Center (PMHARC) at the University of Pennsylvania. The CAC is directed by Dr. Paul Crits-Christoph and includes experts in conducting HIV studies: Dr. Robert Gross and Dr. Pablo Tebas, as well as HIV-related neurological disorders expert Dr. Dennis Kolson. Core members pool their respective expertise to assist with pilot recruitment, conducting and scheduling assessments, and standardizing the battery of core measures.  The primary goal of the CAC is to facilitate optimal assessment of PMHARC patients.  Please scroll through to learn more about our members, services, and core battery measures.

Core Personnel

Core Director: Paul Crits-Christoph, PhD 
Dr. Crits-Christoph has served as director of the Center for Psychotherapy Research at Penn for the past 22 years and has held continuous NIMH funding since 1985. In addition to his current work involving community based studies of major depressive disorder, he has been involved in as a site PI on large scale multicenter HIV risk reduction trials in the NIDA Clinical Trials Network. He is also co-director of a Scientific Working Group on Addictions and HIV within the Penn Center for AIDS Research.  In addition, Dr. Crits-Christoph has been involved in the development of numerous scales for psychiatric research, including scales for the assessment of manic and depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, interpersonal problems/themes, and scales for measuring treatment process and outcome, such as measures of the therapeutic alliance and treatment fidelity measures.

Co-Director: Pablo Tebas, MD 
Dr. Tebas directs the adult AIDS Clinical Trials Unit (ACTU) at Penn and the Developmental Core of the Penn Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). His main research interests are the treatment of HIV infection and the study of the metabolic complications associated with HIV infection and its treatment. The introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has resulted in significant reductions in the morbidity and mortality associated with HIV infection. Unfortunately, the use of HAART has also been associated with significant adverse effects, including dyslipidemia and insulin resistance, bone disease and fat redistribution. Current studies are directed to understand better the role that chronic persistent inflammation plays in the complications of antiretroviral treatment and HIV infection and strategies to decrease total drug exposure and attain virological control with the use of therapeutic vaccines and gene therapy.

Co-Director: Robert Gross, MD, MSCE 
Dr. Gross is Co-Director of the Clinical Core of the Penn Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). He is trained in both Infectious Diseases and Clinical Epidemiology and has held continuous NIMH funding for his HIV research since 2000. He is an expert in the assessment and analysis of antiretroviral adherence data, risk factors for non-adherence/barriers to adherence, including clinical trials to assess novel adherence interventions. He is currently conducting a large cohort study of the interaction between adherence and pharmacogenetics with treatment outcomes in HIV-infected individuals on antiretroviral therapy in Botswana where alcohol use is common and of particular interest in his work

Member: Dennis Kolson, MD, PhD 
Dr. Kolson has trained in both Neurology and Neurovirology and has served as a UPenn site investigator for neurological clinical trials within the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit (ACTU). His laboratory is particularly focused on the role for the anti-oxidant response in human macrophages in modifying HIV infection and HIV-mediated neurodegeneration. He has had continuous NIH support since 1992 and has several NIH-funded collaborations with numerous collaborators within the University of Pennsylvania and also with investigators at the University of Texas, Temple University, and Drexel University. He is a scientific advisor to the NIH/National NeuroAIDS Tissue Consortium and serves the CAC as an expert on HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND).

Our Services

The Clinical Assessment Core has a role in recruiting and assessing all PMHARC pilot study patients.  Recruitment assistance is provided to all pilot studies. All pilot study PIs are invited to reach out to the CAC and request in person meetings to discuss new mechanisms of recruitment. The recruitment experts are Drs. Gross and Tebas who have successfully aided in recruitment for the Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) and have strong ties to local HIV clinics such as the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia FIGHT. 

In addition, the CAC trains and supervises diagnosticians to conduct all interview-based psychiatric assessments (e.g., Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression) for the pilot studies and other NIH funded studies affiliated with the Center . 

Core Battery

All PMHARC pilot studies include the following self-report measures as part of a core battery.

Risk Assessment Battery (RAB). This is a self-report questionnaire designed to assess high-risk behaviors associated with HIV transmission. The measure yields two scores: Drug Risk Behavior (e.g. sharing needles, IV drug use) and Sex Risk Behavior (e.g., exchanging sex for drugs, unprotected sexual activity).

The BASIS-24.  The BASIS-24 is a 24 item self-report inventory designed to measure mental health status from the patient’s point of view. The items cover 6 domains including: depression/functioning, interpersonal relationships, psychotic symptoms, alcohol/drug use, and emotional lability.

The SF-12.  This measure is used to assess health-related psychosocial functioning. This well-validated, self-report tool measures 8 health-related dimensions: physical functioning, bodily pain, role limitations due to physical health problems, role limitations due to personal or emotional problems, general mental health, social functioning, energy/fatigue, and general health perceptions.

Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology- Self Report (QIDS). The QIDS is a 16-item self-report measure designed to assess the severity of depressive symptoms using the criterion symptoms designated by the DSM-IV.

For More Information

To learn more about our current treatment programs, research protocols, or to ask specific questions about the Core, please call us at 215-349-5222.


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