Researchers

Finding a Partner for Research

  • The nature of the PRCTRC is to foster collaborative and translational research. We are committed to help researchers to find collaborators among our partner institutions and to help in establishing research clusters.

Support Collaborative Research

  • The Clinical and Translational Research Pilot Project Core is a pilot program that may also give funding to start a research.

Carlos E. Rodriguez Diaz, Ph.D.

UPR-Medical Sciences Campus
Assistant Professor, Center for Evaluation and Sociomedical Research (CIES)
carlos.rodriguez64@upr.edu

See Biographical Sketch

Research Goals

 

Dr. Carlos E. Rodriguez-Diaz is a public health scientist, currently an Assistant Professor to the School of Public Health of the University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus. He holds a doctoral degree (PhD) in Public Health with a major in Community Health Promotion and post-doctoral training in HIV and Global Health Research.

 

Dr. Rodriguez-Diaz is a respected professional with regional and international collaborations in the US and the Caribbean region. He is also well recognized for his scientific contributions having over 20 publications in prestigious peer-review journals.

 

Dr. Rodriguez-Diaz expects to continue contributing in the development of interventions to reduce inequities and disparities among populations made vulnerable. His current research activities are aimed to address stigma and discrimination in healthcare services, particularly among those affected by VIH/AIDS and LBGT populations.

*Research Overview

 

Project Description

  • Project Title: Contacto-dos: Feasibility of an intervention to manage stigma among HIV-MSM in Puerto Rico
  • Awardee Type: Community-Based Investigator Award
  • Collaborator(s): Nelson Varas Diaz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, UPR-Río Piedras
  • Translational Stage: Translation to Patients
  • Health Disparity Focus: HIV
  • Partnership: UPR-Río Piedras
  • Funding: $50,000
  • Abstract: In the U. S., by 2008, Hispanics/Latinos had an HIV diagnosis rate over three times the rate for non-Hispanic/Latino whites, and men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the highest percentage of diagnose s. Hispanic/Latino MSM represented 72% of new infections among all Hispanic/Latino men, and nearly 19% among all MSM in the U.S.

 

Recent HIV surveillance data indicates that Puerto Rico (PR) has an incidence rate of 45.0 per 100,000; twice the rate of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Despite the substantial and growing prevalence of HIV and STIs among MSM in PR, it has been documented that HIV and gay-related stigma, as well as the lack of preparedness of healthcare providers to provide appropriate services to non-heterosexual (LGBT) individuals, continue negatively impacting the provision of HIV-related services. The effects of these multiple sources of stigma are detrimental, predominantly in already vulnerable social groups, where stigma contributes to poor health outcomes and poor utilization of health services. In the proposed study we will focus on the improvement of HIV services for Puerto Rican and other Hispanic/Latino MSM through the development of a culturally-appropriate system-level intervention for healthcare providers aimed at increasing access to and retention in care by reducing stigma associated with sexuality (gay stigma) and its interconnections with HIV. It is anticipated that this intervention (En Contacto) will help reduce the conditions that stigmatize gay men/MSM and HIV/AIDS and will have an impact in access and retention in care.

Idali Martínez Martínez, Ph.D.                                    

UPR-Medical Sciences Campus
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Medical Zoology
idali.martinez@upr.edu

See Biographical Sketch

Research Goals

 

  • Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) emerged in Puerto Rico in May 2014, causing more than 30,000 suspected cases by the end of that year. This virus causes an acute disease characterized by high fever and severe arthralgia and arthritis that can become chronic for months or years after the initial infection. Animal and human studies have suggested that the chronic arthralgia/arthritis is caused by unresolved inflammation responses and persistent infection in macrophages that infiltrates the joints. Thus, the main goal of this pilot study is to identify factors released from macrophages of CHIKV-infected individuals that may play a role in the establishment of the chronic arthralgia/arthritis. Our long-term goal is to better understand CHIKV pathogenesis and the mechanisms leading to chronic disease in order to develop effective therapies against this condition.

*Research Overview

 

Project Description

  • Project Title: Contacto-dos: Feasibility of an intervention to manage stigma among HIV-MSM in Puerto Rico
  • Awardee Type: Community-Based Investigator Award
  • Collaborator(s): Nelson Varas Díaz, Ph.D , Associate Professor , UPR-Rio Piedras
  • Translational Stage: Translation to Patients
  • Health Disparity Focus: HIV
  • Partnership: UPR-Río Piedras
  • Funding: $50,000
  • Abstract: In the U. S., by 2008, Hispanics/Latinos had an HIV diagnosis rate over three times the rate for non-Hispanic/Latino whites, and men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the highest percentage of diagnose s. Hispanic/Latino MSM represented 72% of new infections among all Hispanic/Latino men, and nearly 19% among all MSM in the U.S. Recent HIV surveillance data indicates that Puerto Rico (PR) has an incidence rate of 45.0 per 100,000; twice the rate of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Despite the substantial and growing prevalence of HIV and STIs among MSM in PR, it has been documented that HIV and gay-related stigma, as well as the lack of preparedness of healthcare providers to provide appropriate services to non-heterosexual (LGBT) individuals, continue negatively impacting the provision of HIV-related services. The effects of these multiple sources of stigma are detrimental, predominantly in already vulnerable social groups, where stigma contributes to poor health outcomes and poor utilization of health services. In the proposed study we will focus on the improvement of HIV services for Puerto Rican and other Hispanic/Latino MSM through the development of a culturally-appropriate system-level intervention for healthcare providers aimed at increasing access to and retention in care by reducing stigma associated with sexuality (gay stigma) and its interconnections with HIV. It is anticipated that this intervention (En Contacto) will help reduce the conditions that stigmatize gay men/MSM and HIV/AIDS and will have an impact in access and retention in care.

Janaina M. Alves, Ph.D.

Universidad Central del Caribe

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology

janaina.alves@uccaribe.edu

See Biographical Sketch

Research Goals

 

  • My expertise is focused in cellular differentiation and neuroprotection. However, I have experienced clinical research into HIV-HPV to obtain my master degree. During the past years I become more independent and had the possibility to start to mentor undergraduate students due to a RCMI-Grant. Therefore, I believe that I have the expertise, leadership and motivation necessary to participate this project due to different types of training. As a doctoral fellow at University of São Paulo, I carried out experiments involving the peptide bradykinin in neural progenitor cells differentiation. Bradykinin is released in normal conditions but increased secretion is found in pathological conditions. At Universidad Central del Caribe, I expanded my knowledge and my research area interest. I started a project that consists on the study of the immunomodulatory effect of Imiquimod in the enhancement of the HIV-specific immune response on a DNA vaccination platform, after vaccination of C57BL/6 mice. We hypothesize that Imiquimod, will enhance the immune response of HIV-specific mediated DNA vaccine against HIV antigens. My project and the department provide the optimal environment for my success into the biomedical research field. Our research group constantly discusses data, for different purposes. Besides, the department and the University supports the developing skills as a junior scientist, providing all necessary resources, advice and support to personnel in the laboratory, which includes undergraduate, graduate students, and technicians. I strongly believe that I can provide proper training for the new students. This will help to enhance our publication record and will generate data to apply for additional funding support. Importantly, we also attend to scientific meetings to present our results and also to. Together with the proper mentorship, I am immerse in an environment that enhances my skills in writing, data analysis, and decision-making processes regarding research strategies to ensure my success as scientists in biomedical research.

*Research Overview

 

Project Description

  • Project Title: Utility of LIF to protect against HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders
  • Awardee Type: Translational Health Disparity Investigator Award
  • Collaborator(s): Richard J. Noel, Jr., Ph.D, Associate Professor Ponce Health Sciences University
    Robert F. Hunter-Mellado, MD, Ph.D, Professor, Universidad Central del Caribe
  • Translational Stage: Translation to Human
  • Health Disparity Focus: HIV
  • Partnership: Ponce Health Sciences University and Universidad Central del Caribe
  • Funding: $50,000
  • Abstract: The therapy of HIV/AIDS has expanded over the years to include 26 drugs. However, rapid development of drug resistant-viral strains makes antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection transiently effective in some scenarios, in others the concept of stable quiescent CD4 T cell, astrocytes and microglia functioning as reservoirs of the latent infection represent the major hurdle towards the cure of the infection. Prolonged human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection leads to neurological debilitation, including motor dysfunction and frank dementia. Although pharmacological control of HIV infection is now possible, HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remain intractable. In addition, current antiretroviral drugs have low bioavailability in the brain and no antiviral drug is currently available that can silence or eliminate the DNA of HIV provirus from reservoirs within the central nervous system. Therefore, an alternative approach should be found to prevent or alleviate the CNS damage following HIV-1 infection. In this regard, we propose to use the supernatant of neural progenitor cells (NPC) more specifically secreted factors by these cells known as leukemia inhibitor factor (LIF). The NPC are particularly interesting because correspond a complex microenvironment capable to release factors to induce differentiation and give origin to neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Besides, the undifferentiated neurospheres are able to release anti-inflammatory factors. For instance, the graft of neurospheres was found to decrease the inflammation in animal model mimicking human multiple sclerosis. As the injection of NPCs into the brain are far beyond the clinical uses and after graft the cells will be differentiated to astrocytes and neurons, being susceptible to HIV proteinsinduced apoptosis due to persistent HIV proteins production, we propose use the components of neurospheres supernatants, known as LIF. Therefore, this project will examine the hypothesis that the LIF treatment will protect against IV/Nefmediated neuronal damage due to anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective factors. The effective therapy against HIV is increasing the survival of HIV-patients.

Nelson D. Cruz Bermúdez, Ph.D.

UPR-Río Piedras

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
nelson.cruz6@upr.edu

See Biographical Sketch

Research Goals

 

  • I am interested in uncovering biological markers of diseases that might allow the development of reliable diagnoses and treatments. I am also interested in understanding neurobiological and cognitive mechanisms affected in neuropsychiatric disorders such as drug addiction, depression and anxiety in Latino populations using electrophysiology, neuroimaging, and genetics. Finally, I would like to improve strategies aimed at increasing minority participation in STEM research and provide training opportunities for students on clinical and translational research.

Giovanni Tirado Santiago, Ph.D.

UPR-Río Piedras

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
gtirado@ipsi.uprrp.edu

See Biographical Sketch

Support for Collaborative Research

*Research Overview

 

*Research Overview

Project Description

  • Project Title: Neurocognitive mechanisms involved in the processing of attentional biases for negative information in Latino Adolescents
  • Awardee Type: Translational Health Disparity Investigator Award
  • Collaborator(s): Guillermo Bernal, Ph.D, Professor, UPR-Rio Piedras
  • Translational Stage: Translation to Human
  • Health Disparity Focus: Neuroscience
  • Partnership: UPR-Medical Sciences Campus
  • Funding: $50,000
  • Abstract: This is an application for a Translational Health Disparity Investigator Award, to the Puerto Rico Clinical and Translational Research Consortium, to carry out a pilot project in the field of neuroscience. The proposed project seeks to study in a non-clinical sample of Latinos, and from a developmental perspective, attentional biases to negative information and the neurocognitive mechanisms related to their expression, maintenance, and management. Attentional biases to negative information are persistent and difficult to control cognitive processes that maintain symptoms in both anxiety and depression. These biases will be studied at several levels of analysis: self-reports, psychophysiology, functional neuroimaging, and computerized cognitive experiments. We plan to recruit 25 adolescents (13-17 years old) and 25 young adults (18-29 years old). All participants will attend two sessions. On the first, they will fill out self-report instruments that measure (a) anxiety symptoms; (b) depressive symptoms; (c) emotion regulation; and (d) attention. Immediately after this they will perform two cognitive experiments that measure reactivity to negative information. Electrophysio-logical responses will be measured using electroencephalograms and event related potentials, which are techniques suitable to measure fast responses and changes in brain activity. During a second session, participants will undergo brain imaging sessions at the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility at the Imaging Center of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus to assess: a) brain activity associated to tasks involving cognitive inhibition related to emotional content as measured by Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) contrast (fMRI), b) BOLD-based resting-state functional connectivity among pre-selected brain regions of interest (fcMRI), and c) anatomical volume of selected brain regions (MRI). While EEG/ERP allows for a high temporal resolution of fast responses to emotional stimuli, fMRI/fcMRI will permit to study with a fine spatial resolution of hemodynamic activity in brain regions and circuits necessary for cognitive control and inhibition. Self-report data will be analyzed by correlations among scores in all instruments. EEG/ERP and fMRI/fcMRI data will be analyzed through factorial analysis of variance. Multiple regressions will be performed with dependent variables defined by categories measured in self-reports or in the cognitive task, with independent variables defined from measures obtained using all techniques. This type of research allows to relate several units of analysis (as stated in NIMH RDoC criteria), which may be useful for the development of integrative strategies to understand and treat affective disorders on which attentional biases an d deficits in cognitive inhibition are common. Finally, since these disorders arise from the interplay between organic and sociocultural factors, the focus on Latino youth and young adults may allow us to bridge a large gap in the knowledge on the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in affective processing in this population.

Available Technology and Laboratories

  • The PRCTRC through its partners offer a variety of technological resources that are available to those that have established or will establish a collaborative research. To learn more click: Technology Resource for Core Laboratories.

Clinical Research Facilities

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