Making It Possible For HIV Patients To Receive Needed Care

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The six weeks that graduate student Tinashe Mudzviti spends at the University at Buffalo this summer could help more than 100,000 people with HIV receive life-saving treatments back in his home country of Zimbabwe.

Mudzviti, a first-year master's student at the University of Zimbabwe, is the first UZ graduate student to visit UB as part of a collaborative program between the two universities to improve the quality and distribution of treatments for HIV patients in developing nations.

Now in its sixth year, the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences clinical and translational research program was founded by Chiedza Maponga, a 1988 UB graduate and the first clinical pharmacist in his native Zimbabwe, and his UB mentor, Gene D. Morse, associate dean for clinical and translational research.

The UB/UZ program has been an important component in recent years in turning the destructive tide of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, which is down to 18 percent from 25 percent a few years ago, according to Maponga.

"Of all the southern African countries, Zimbabwe is the only one that is showing a downward trend," he said.

The Zimbabwean government has launched a campaign to distribute free antiretroviral drugs to 120,000 people with HIV by the end of 2007. However, Maponga said there are more than 600,000 are in need of these life-saving medicines in his home country.

As part of his work here, 24-year-old Mudzviti has been learning laboratory research protocols and technology here at UB, and has discovered many similarities and a few differences, between research in the two countries.

"There's more an emphasis on issues of safety, on standard operating procedures, in the United States. I think we will need to learn put more emphasis on everything we do, to make everything precise, to make everything accurate and keep everything tight," he said.

Mudzviti, whose trip to Western New York marks his first journey outside of southern Africa, knows the responsibility that awaits him upon his return to Zimbabwe.

"Coming here and seeing how things are done from this end means that when I go back, I'll be in a better position to show people the practicality of pharmacology theory, that these things can really be done, that we can do them just as well."

Maponga remains committed to reaching the thousands of ailing patients in his homeland and those in nearby nations. His mantra of late is that he works to "build bridges" between Zimbabwe and developed countries like the United States by adopting the methods that have managed to ebb their AIDS epidemics, including drug monitoring, distribution and adherence plans, pharmacological research, education and training.

"Zimbabwe also is one of only three countries in southern Africa that is producing and using its own drugs to fight HIV. The work is progressing and the scientists there want to work to make it different," he said.

The two universities rely heavily on technology transfer to carry on their collaborative work, according to Maponga, who holds academic appointments at both institutions.

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"This means that on a given research project, a student in Zimbabwe can be collecting samples while a student here at UB is assigned to do the reading part of the project," Maponga said.

The UB/UZ program early on established a pharmacology support laboratory in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe and home of its university, in order to work together on projects with the UB Pharmacotherapy Research Center (PRC), where Morse serves as director and leads a team of several scientists and lab staff members.

At the University of Zimbabwe -- home to the nation's only medical school -- Maponga collaborates with Dr. James Hakim, the institution's lead medical investigator for HIV research programs, and directs a support staff that includes nurses and community workers from Harare.

The combined International Center for HIV/AIDS Pharmacotherapy Research and Training (ICHAPRT) has attracted support for its mission to further HIV research and prevention, most recently from two donors, Waters Corporation, which has donated much-needed medical equipment, and the Gilead Foundation, which has donated $15,000 for student training.

Waters Corporation, headquartered in Milford, Massachusetts, U.S.A., a global leader in ultra performance liquid chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal analysis and rheology instrumentation and consumables, has donated an Alliance(R) high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) valued at $60,000 for use in graduate student training. The equipment, now housed in a lab at UB to be used by visiting students like Mudvziti, eventually will be shipped to Zimbabwe for implementation at UZ. Sophisticated analytical tools like Waters(R) Alliance HPLC system are needed at UZ to monitor drug therapy for individual patients.

Michael Yelle, the senior director of clinical operations at the Waters Division of Waters Corporation, said the company shares Maponga's vision of helping as many people as possible through education and technology.

"Waters Corporation is committed to improving human health through the use of our laboratory products and technologies for research and patient healthcare. Our work in the clinical market generally and therapeutic drug monitoring specifically has a direct impact on patients lives. This donation to the University at Buffalo/University of Zimbabwe collaborative program on HIV/AIDS research and treatment in developing nations was inspired by our desire to support an important program that strives to help those in need of quality medical care," Yelle said.

The corporation's liquid chromatographs and mass spectrometers also play a key role in pharmacology research worldwide and make it possible for hospitals to screen newborns for life-threatening metabolic disorders and to help provide organ transplant patients the care they need to help prevent organ rejection.

The program at UB received a supplement from the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center in collaboration with the University of California Berkeley AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) The supplement paid for Mudzviti's travel to and from Zimbabwe this summer.

Morse notes that "with new training and expertise, the University of Zimbabwe will be better positioned to obtain funding from the World Health Organization to implement pharmacology-related protocols and enroll patients in its own clinical trials. This will, in turn, allow for important clinical research to be conducted that examines the use of HIV medicine with traditional medicines that used commonly in developing countries."

The program's top priority remains "to find opportunities to offer technical support and technology transfer in the provision of essential medicines for HIV and AIDS in resource poor settings," according to Maponga.

"Ideally those medicines should be of good quality and made available to patients in a way that is affordable, and sustainable," he said. "Patients need to be trained to ensure that they take those medicines as recommended and be prepared to report any unwanted or unexpected reactions that they might experience after taking the medications."

Training students like Tinashe Mudzviti properly is the key to the future of the program and the future of countries like Zimbabwe, Maponga said, waving his hand toward the student.

"He is living proof that this is not a program that is undertaken so that we can publish papers and finish a project. We need the students to come here for the essential science and be able to go back there to apply the science. When they finish their degrees, we don't say they're finished. We must continue to groom them until they are able to write grants on their own and contribute to the scientific journals, until they can stand on their own," Maponga said.

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