On Sunday, June 11, 2017, the SHARC team participated in the Gainesville Equality March for Unity and Pride. Several SHARC Team members gathered Downtown at Depot Park and marched to Bo Diddly Plaza where a rally was held in solidarity with the National Equality March for Unity & Pride in Washington, D.C. The SHARC Team was there to support celebrate diversity, and respect the rights of all individuals. While marching the SHARC Team handed out giveaways such as sleek water bottles, nifty pens as well as allowing fellow marchers to take photos with an Instagram cut out.


The Health Science Center Library HIV/AIDS graphic novel contest Spotlight

The Health Science Center Library is hosting a graphic novel contest this summer, with the purpose of raising awareness and educating about HIV and AIDS. Top submissions will be included in a published collection to be distributed throughout Gainesville and Jacksonville. If you or your students are interested in exploring the intersection of arts and medicine and are passionate about making a difference in your community, we ask you to take part.

The contest runs June 1st, 2017 to August 5, 2017 with a free workshop hosted by the Sequential Artists Workshop to be held June 13th, 2017, from 6-9pm for anyone who is interested. More information can be found at

HIV Treatment Works Campaign Uncategorized

HIV Treatment Works: The HIV Treatment Works campaign encourages people living with HIV to Get in Care , Stay in Care and Live Well . Today, you can live a longer, healthier life by being in medical care and on HIV treatment. People featured in these videos share how they live well with HIV and how you can, too.

Find more information here at:

SHARC Research Awards Spotlight

Dr. Wang

University of Florida Department of Epidemiology Research Assistant Scientist Yan Wang, PhD, was recently awarded funding from the UF Shands Quasi Endowment Fund for her project entitled, “Improving alcohol use screening among HIV infected patients through advanced psychological testing.”
Even though alcohol use and abuse remains a major obstacle to the effective treatment of HIV patients, there has been a long-standing problem in obtaining reliable alcohol use data in clinical settings. The project, directed by Dr. Wang, seeks to address this issue by applying the implicit association test (IAT) to the screening process. The IAT was recently adapted for the measurement of addictive behaviors, including alcohol use, but has yet to be evaluated in clinical applications.
The proposed plan is to administer an alcohol identity IAT among 50-60 HIV positive drinkers. From there, they will test its validity using the ecological momentary assessment (EMA) as well as a transdermal alcohol biosensor. As stated by Dr. Wang, “the ultimate goal is to establish better alcohol measurements as the basis for designing more effective and individualized alcohol intervention.”
We at SHARC are glad to have Dr. Wang as an affiliated scientist and are excited to see how this study will progress alcohol screening methods and allow us to better help the HIV community.



Dr. Mayian

On Friday, January 20, 2017, it was announced that University of Florida Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine Postdoctoral Associate Carla Mavian, Ph.D., was selected for UF’s highly competitive Thomas H. Maren Junior Investigator Postdoctoral Award. The award provides Dr. Mavian with $50,000 for her two-year study, “Salivary mircroRNA as novel biomarkers of HIV/AIDS disease progression in people living with HIV.”

The innovative and exciting work that Dr. Mavian will be conducting through this project will be focusing on a novel, minimally invasive way to measure the occurrence of different HIV clinical conditions. The proposed plan is to use microRNA (miRNA) profiles obtained from saliva, which would provide clinicians with an brilliant alternative to current plasma-based methods.

In the words of Dr. Mavian, “This is the first step towards identifying new biomarkers that can be used to help guide treatment decisions, evaluate interventions, and/or help with prognosis of HIV/AIDS disease and progression.”

We look forward to all the future contributions Dr. Mavian will make to the field.

Moving Forward Together: Advancing Health Care for Those Left Behind

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

Robert Cook, MD, MPH

Robert Cook, MD, MPH

On September 27, 2016, Florida Community Health Action Information Network (CHAIN) will host its second annual conference, Moving Forward Together: Advancing Health Care for Those Left Behind. The conference will join national experts, advocates, consumers, health care providers, and other stakeholder together in an effort to spread information about current health care topics and ways to improve the health of all Floridians.

The conference schedule includes discussions on children’s and seniors’ health, mental health, and infectious diseases, among others.

This year, among the plenary speakers is our very own director, Dr. Robert Cook. As an expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Cook will cover various aspects of diseases in Florida, and along with the other speakers will discuss topics such as innovative delivery systems, preventive services, and health literacy.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Marijuana and HIV Viral Load Suppression

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

A recent study from SHARC headed by Dr. Chukwuemeka Okafor indicates that marijuana use may not have an adverse effect on viral load suppression in persons living with HIV (PLWH). The article was titled Marijuana use and viral suppression in persons receiving medical care for HIV-infectionand was published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Dr. Okafor stated, “Marijuana use is common among people with HIV as some individuals report that marijuana relieves a wide range of symptoms, including chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite.” However, studies on the effects of marijuana on HIV clinical outcomes are limited. This study aimed to fill that gap as it reports the effects of marijuana use on viral suppression.

The study used data from SHARC’s Medical Monitoring Project (MMP) and analyzed data collected from five annual cross-sections from 2009 to 2013. The results showed no statistically significant association between marijuana use and viral suppression.

This study is especially relevant in Florida because Florida has the third highest number of PLWH as well as the highest number of newly diagnosed HIV infections in the United States. In addition, Florida voters will consider, in November, a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. Dr. Okafor stated, “If passed, it is possible that Florida residents with HIV may have increased access to marijuana, yet any association between marijuana use and viral suppression among those receiving medical care has not been thoroughly described.”

Dr. Okafor suggests, “Future research should include larger studies using longitudinal designs and more precise measures of the marijuana used by participants, including the cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol content.”

Effects of Heavy Alcohol Use on Clinical Outcomes of HIV Patients on ART

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized


Dr. Christopher W. Kahler

Two longitudinal studies from Brown University have found that persons living with HIV (PLWH) who have alcohol use disorder or engage in high levels of alcohol consumption may be at increased risk of all-cause mortality. This is increasingly significant in terms of clinical research as resent estimates indicate that approximately 61% of PLWH have consumed alcohol in the past year with nearly 15% reporting to be heavy drinkers.

Dr. Christopher W. Kahler, professor and chair in the department of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health and SHARC executive committee member, and his colleagues looked at the impact of past 30-day frequency drinking on both HIV- and non-HIV-related clinical outcomes. They also examined the extent to which the reduction of adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) could be seen as the cause for these outcomes. The team used data from the Study to Understand the Natural Hisotry of HIV/AIDS in the Era of Effective Therapy. They used longitudinal mediation analysis, which allowed them to estimate natural direct effects of heavy drinking frequency on clinical outcomes and natural indirect effects mediated through ART adherence.

Essentially, Dr. Kahler and his colleagues found that PLWH who also engaged in heavy drinking experienced deleterious effects on multiple clinical biomarkers, including HIV VL, CG4+ T-cell counts, and estimated liver fibrosis, while reducing such engagement exhibited benefits, such as increasing ART adherence and reduction of the negative effects of heavy drinking on the body.

Click here to read the full study.


Spotlight: Chukwuemeka Okafor, Ph.D.

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

Chukwuemeka Okafor, PHD

Chukwuemeka Okafor, PHD

Dr. Okafor Giving his presentation

Dr. Okafor Giving his presentation

On Thursday, June 30th, 2016 Chukwuemeka Okafor, MPH, Ph.D, defended his dissertation titled, “Marijuana Use Among HIV-Seropositive and HIV-Seronegative Men: Long Term Trends, Predictors of Use, and Impact on Cognitive Function.”

Dr. Okafor earned his Bachelors in Biochemistry from the University of Lagos in Nigeria and his Masters in Health Behavior from the University of North Florida in 2012. He then came to the University of Florida to pursue his Ph.D in Epidemiology as a graduate fellow through the College of Public Health and Health Professions. Dr. Okafor has since focused on the cognitive and inflammatory impacts of substance use, including cannabis use, in individuals living with HIV.

Dr. Okafor has been a major contributor to SHARC since he joined in 2012. He has helped recruit participants in the Florida Cohort Study, presented several posters using SHARC data, and has been actively involved with the WHAT-IF? project.

During his time with SHARC, Dr. Okafor finds that his most significant accomplishments must be the collaborations he was able to do with faculty and students. “It was truly and amazing learning experience that was productive in the end,” he said. These collaborations culminated in the publication of two primary-authored papers. In addition to this, another important accomplishment for Dr. Okafor was obtaining an F31 research training grand from NIDA, and he acknowledged, “The many interactions with the faculty in SHARC proved very helpful in fine-tuning my research protocol/study design for the training grant.”

Currently, Dr. Okafor is working on publishing two of the papers from his dissertations. The first looks at long-term trends in the prevalence of marijuana use and the second looks at the effects of cumulative exposure to marijuana cognitive function among HIV-positive and HIV-negative men.

Regarding his future goals, Dr. Okafor plans to pursue an academic research career that will focus on biomedical HIV prevention approaches, particularly among high-risk groups that include young minority men who have sex with men, as well as among drug users. Dr. Okafor has accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of California, Los Angeles, and plans to continue research there.

Spotlight: Jon Mills, M.B.A, Ph.D.

Maryann Zacharias Uncategorized

Jon Mills

Jon Mills, MBA, PHD

On June 2, 2016, Jon Mills, MBA, PhD, defended his dissertation titled, “Comparative Effectiveness of Dual-Action versus Single-Action Antidepressants for Treatment of People Diagnosed with Co-Occurring HIV/AIDS and a Major Depression: A Growing Syndemic,” a study that involved a collaboration with the CFAR Network of Integration Clinical Systems (CNICS) cohort study.

Dr. Mills was a doctoral student at SHARC. He completed his Masters in Business Administration at the University of Colorado and went on to pursue a PhD in Health Services Research as a student at the University of Florida.

Dr. Mills was an active student member of SHARC. He has attended all SHARC conferences and presented posters using SHARC data. He was the leader of the Medical Monitoring Project (MMP) working group and is the primary author on three abstracts and one manuscript using this data.

His most recent paper as a primary author is titled, “The comparative impact of different patient-centered medical home domains on satisfaction among individuals living with type II diabetes.” The study focused on diabetes, however, patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs) are a model of providing care that is quite applicable to people living with HIV/AIDS. Dr. Mills hopes to complete a study at some point in the future analyzing collaborative care models like PCMHs in a population with HIV/AIDS and depression.

When asked about his most significant accomplishments at SHARC, Dr. Mills stated,“The main accomplishment was taking advantage of an incredible opportunity to collaborate with an exceptional group of faculty, students and staff. I experienced first hand the importance of collaboration especially when addressing a health issue as complex as HIV/AIDS and the co-morbidities common among this population.  Our task is not a one person job.”

Regarding his future goals, Dr. Mills has expressed interest in pursuing a career in academia. He intends to continue his research studying the impact of interventions, policies, and treatment for people suffering from co-occurring psychiatric/substance use disorder and HIV/AIDS. He would also like to continue developing expertise in comparative effectiveness research (CER), stating, “I learned from my dissertation that CER is much more complex than meets the eye. I find CER to be an essential type of research in translational science especially in the absence of a paradigm shift in treatment (e.g. discovery of a cure of HIV/AIDS).