Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Research Activities and Advances

Research on STDs/sexually transmitted infections (STIs) falls into the portfolios of several NICHD organizational units. Some of their activities are explained below.

The Population Dynamics Branch (PDB) funds studies of sexual behaviors related to disease prevention in a variety of populations and intervention studies to modify risky sexual behaviors. This includes basic and intervention research on the demographic, social, and behavioral aspects of the sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs and the behaviors of individuals and couples in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and disease. The Branch also promotes a population perspective on the HIV epidemic by examining the causes and consequences of the epidemic in and across populations.

Much of the Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch's (MPIDB's) research focuses on HIV/AIDS and ways to prevent mother-to-child transmission and new infections. But the Branch also studies other STIs. For example, through MPIDB, NICHD co-funds the Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) to study the use of topical vaginal and rectal agents called microbicides, to prevent HIV and other STIs. The Network is also studying the use of these microbicides during pregnancy and breastfeeding to evaluate the safety of their use in women and infants. The Institute has also created several intervention programs that strive to understand factors that influence teen decision making regarding sexual behaviors that increase the risk of STIs.

Collaboration between the MTN and the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN), which is co-funded by NICHD, continues to evaluate the safety of microbicides in adolescents, such as in the recent collaborative study (MTN 023) of a vaginal ring impregnated with the antiretroviral drug dapivirine that was recently shown to be effective in preventing HIV infection in adult women. The ATN's research also includes the development, adaptation, implementation, and evaluation of culturally appropriate, theory-driven behavioral preventive interventions for HIV and other STIs in at-risk youth.

The MPIDB is also leading NICHD research related to Zika virus. The Branch is collaborating on the Zika in Infants and Pregnancy study and is working to support additional research projects related to Zika. In addition, NICHD hosted a workshop on Zika exposure in the womb and long-term health outcomes. A meeting summary is currently in press.

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