Jennifer A. Downs, MD, MSc, a former KL2 Global Health Scholar in the CTSC’s Clinical and Translational Education Program (CTEP), has distinguished herself by winning research support from both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) K23 program. Dr. Downs is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Center for Global Health, Division of Infectious Diseases, Weill Cornell Medical College. Her research focuses on women’s health and HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Grants support innovative projects that hold the promise to improve the health of individuals living in the developing world. Now in its 12th round of funding, the program provides initial funding of $100,000 that may increase to up to $1 million, if a project proves successful. Dr. Downs’ study “From Obstacles to Opportunities for Male Circumcision in Tanzania” was one of 52 Phase I grantees. Over an 18-month grant period, Dr. Downs and her colleagues will measure the effectiveness of church-based educational programs in promoting male circumcision in Tanzania. Male circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk for HIV transmission, but tribal and religious identities may influence its acceptance in some African countries. If successful, this effort will identify educational approaches that increase awareness and adoption of a prevention practice that will help combat the spread of HIV in Tanzania.
Dr. Downs has also been recognized recently by the NIH’s K23 program. The K23 Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award provides career-development support to investigators who have demonstrated a commitment to pursuing patient-oriented research. With five years of support totaling more than $900,000, Dr. Downs will study schistosomiasis, mucosal immunity, and HIV susceptibility in Tanzania. Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by exposure to a genus of parasitic freshwater worms common in African and other tropical nations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that approximately 85% of its known cases are in Africa. The disease may increase a woman’s vulnerability to HIV infection by damaging the genital tract. Dr. Downs’ research will improve our understanding of the interaction of these two diseases in a community at enhanced risk for both.
The CTSC congratulates Dr. Downs on these impressive achievements. She is an exemplar of the caliber of translational scientist whom we are fortunate to train through CTEP.
For more information about Dr. Downs’ Gates Foundation award, please read here.