Center Overview

Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Center (PMHARC) Overview

The overarching theme of the Penn Mental Health AIDS Research Center (PMHARC) at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Wistar Institute (Wistar) is to transform how individuals with comorbid mental illness and HIV/AIDS are treated and managed by developing innovative, interdisciplinary, and integrative approaches to optimize psychiatric, behavioral, and medical outcomes and achieving a better understanding of the biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms underlying these combined illnesses and treatments. A substantial body of work links psychiatric disorders to acquisition of HIV infection, accelerated immune dysfunction, poor access to HIV care, and poor adherence to antiretroviral treatment once in care.  Yet, there is a relative paucity of evidence-based interventions focused on the combined treatment of mental illness, HIV, and related medical co-morbidities, and relatively little work in determining the relationships between mental health treatment and HIV and understanding the underlying biology.  PMHARC seeks to stimulate novel approaches and strategies to address these problems by providing mentoring and resource support for both new and established investigators choosing to study comorbid mental illness and HIV, in part through innovative pilot studies.

The PMHARC has 5 Specific Aims, which are closely aligned with the mission of the NIMH and the Division of AIDS Research. These are to:

  1. Promote the organizational structure and build capacity at Penn, CHOP, and Wistar to foster innovative, interdisciplinary and synergistic basic, clinical, behavioral, translation and implementation science collaborations around mental health and HIV across the life cycle, including children, adolescents, women (including pregnant women), adults, and the geriatric population.
  2. Support shared Core research resources and synergize with a broad range of Penn/CHOP/Wistar resources that facilitate novel, integrative approaches to the care of those with HIV to optimize psychiatric, behavioral, and medical outcomes and to achieve a better understanding of the biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms underlying these combined illnesses and treatments.
  3. Promote the recruitment and professional development of pre-/post-doctoral trainees, as well as junior and senior faculty, in pursuing new research programs focused on outcomes in mental health/HIV with a special focus on engaging more under-represented minorities (URM) and women in Center activities and enhancing the cultural competency of Center studies.
  4. Stimulate pilot studies to support emerging opportunities for research in areas related to mental health/HIV.
  5. Contribute to the scientific productivity of NIMH, the Division of AIDS Research Center Program and the OAR by specifically focusing on persons with mental illness comorbid with HIV and related comorbidities.

Center Description and Mission

PMHARC’s core mission and integrating theme is to stimulate and support innovative studies to transform how people with both mental illness and HIV are managed and treated in order to optimize psychiatric, behavioral, and medical outcomes and achieve a better understanding of the biological, psychological, and behavioral mechanisms underlying these illnesses and their treatments.  Center supported research and investigators will continue to develop and evaluate innovative, integrated treatments for comorbid mental illness/HIV. PMHARC has established the capacity to support investigators conducting a broad range of research, which includes measures of: 

  1. neurocognitive functioning;
  2. adherence to treatment;
  3. drug-drug interactions;
  4. a common set of biomarkers of inflammatory processes, immune function, and metabolism.

Through the unique research infrastructure of its 6 Cores, PMHARC assembles and manages resources to stimulate novel, interdisciplinary, and integrative strategies for the combined management and treatment of comorbid mental illness/HIV.

PMHARC will continue to identify new investigators in comorbid mental illness/HIV and encourage established investigators to transition to integrative mental health/HIV research. This will continue to create new collaborative relationships and stimulate new research directions. Center leaders are expert in therapeutic modalities, allowing PMHARC to develop and evaluate state-of-the-science pharmacotherapies, cognitive behavioral treatments, theory-based behavioral interventions, and combinations of these treatment approaches. Investigators will measure the comparative effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of these interventions and will also study the interaction of mental illnesses with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND). PMHARC merges outstanding research strengths at Penn/CHOP/Wistar in mental illness/HIV to pursue innovative, integrated treatments for these comorbid disorders.

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