Grant will expand COVID testing with syringe exchange programs

Syringes being discarded

Researchers in the UO’s Prevention Science Institute have received a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund expanded COVID-19 testing at syringe exchange sites.

The grant, which builds on the testing capacity created by the UO’s COVID-19 Monitoring and Assessment Program, is part of a nationwide effort to expand testing to underserved communities.

“This project expands the critical work being conducted through the MAP initiative,” said Beth Stormshak, Philip H. Knight Chair, professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and the principal investigator on the project. “It will help ensure the health and safety of our communities and strengthens a vital partnership with HIV Alliance in Oregon that will enable that agency to provide COVID-19 testing at syringe exchange sites.”

Other investigators on the project include Anne Mauricio, Camille Cioffi, Hannah Tavalire, Leslie Leve and Derek Kosty, all research scientists at the Prevention Science Institute or faculty members in the College of Education. Doug Turnbull and Ariana White from the Genomics and Cell Characterization Core Facility are also collaborators.

The project is the second grant the UO has received through the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations program, also called RADx-UP, to expand COVID-19 testing strategies in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. It follows a September grant that provided nearly $5 million in funding to expand testing in Oregon Latinx communities.

More than 60 federal awards were made as part of RADx-UP, with those two being the only projects provided with funding to serve residents in the state of Oregon.

The new project is tied to an existing Prevention Science Institute grant targeting substance use among at-risk students and their families. Titled “Creating a Sustainable Infrastructure for SARS-COV-2 Testing at Syringe Exchange Programs,” the program builds on an existing partnership between HIV Alliance in Oregon and UO researchers.

In addition to testing, the program will provide a “motivational enhancement intervention” known as the COVID-19 Check-Up and evaluate whether the intervention increases testing rates among HIV Alliance clients attending syringe exchange programs. The brief, one-session intervention is modeled after the successful Family Check-Up Online model. The evaluation will include a component to identify barriers and facilitators that can be used to scale up the testing program.

The NIH announced the new grant as part of the second round of RADX-UP funding in a Nov. 20 news release. The UO joins 54 other institutions in enabling and enhancing COVID-19 testing of populations disproportionately affected by the disease, including African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinox, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women and those who are homeless or incarcerated.

It aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among underserved and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing.

By Lewis Taylor, University Communications