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CSULB Receives $1.7 Million NIDA Grant to Study Rapid Tests

Published: October 15, 2010

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a four-year, $1.7 million research grant to CSULB’s Center for Behavioral Research and Services (CBRS) for a project that will study the accuracy and acceptability of experimental rapid tests for infectious diseases.

Titled “Behavioral Science Aspects of Rapid Test Acceptance,” the project will be CSULB’s first registered clinical trial, and the research will contribute to the Federal Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval for the experimental tests as well as a better understanding of who selects rapid tests and why. The project start date was Sept. 30.

“Traditional testing for infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis and syphilis, requires clients to return for their test results one or two weeks after providing a sample. But, there are many people who don’t return to get their results,” noted Dennis Fisher, CBRS director and professor of psychology at CSULB. “When people fail to return for their test results, they do not learn of their disease status, and for those who are infected, not knowing their disease status may delay or prevent accessing available treatments and may lead to others becoming infected.

“Rapid testing for infectious diseases, where clients have the opportunity to receive their results on the same day as they provide their specimen, has the potential to increase the proportion of people who receive their test results,” he added. “Increasing the proportion of people who receive screening test results is important not only to prevent new infections, but also to facilitate those who are infected to access treatment services.”

Currently there are no rapid tests available in the United States for syphilis or combined tests for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and hepatitis C (HCV). While there are rapid tests for HIV available in this country, new HIV rapid tests have been developed that are more sensitive and can detect HIV earlier, but these have not been FDA-approved.

Fisher’s newly funded project will examine the accuracy and acceptability of six experimental rapid tests for HIV, syphilis, and/or HCV. The study will estimate sensitivity and specificity of these tests and will look at the acceptability of these tests among different behavioral risk groups – men who have sex with men (MSM), men who have sex with men and women (MSMW), injection drug users (IDUs), women at sexual risk (WASRs) and transgenders (TGs).

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“Given the potential value of rapid tests to public health efforts, and the current lack of availability of these tests for conditions such as hepatitis and syphilis, this project will significantly advance our understanding of these tests,” Fisher pointed out. “Through this study, we will be able to evaluate both the accuracy of the tests in settings of intended use and the acceptability of these tests by potential clients in real-world situations.”

Fisher is especially hopeful of finding an accurate and acceptable combined test for HIV and HCV, which could have important implications for high-risk groups, such as IDUs, where HCV and HIV infections often co-occur. Past research indicates that bundling HIV testing with testing for other infectious diseases, including HCV, could increase the number of people who choose to be tested for HIV. A combined test for HCV and HIV could provide a useful tool that would encourage HIV testing among populations who would not otherwise test for the disease.

“We’re extremely grateful to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for selecting our study for this grant,” Fisher said. “We believe this project can have a significant impact on the future of screening for infectious diseases in the United States.

“The relevance of this research to public health is to make it possible to receive test results immediately instead of requiring people to wait for at least a week to get their test results,” he added. “Additionally, this research will make rapid tests for HIV available that can detect HIV infection earlier and more accurately than current tests available in the United States.”

The CBRS is a multi-function unit of CSULB dedicated to psychosocial research and services related to community health and social problems. The center conducts social and behavioral research on health and substance-use related issues, and the focus of these studies has been on HIV risk, stress and sexually transmitted diseases. CBRS also operates programs to reduce HIV risk in historically under-served populations.

–Rick Gloady