Research Spotlight: GSDM’s Michelle Henshaw Co-leads New HIV and Oral Health Scientific Working Group



Thanks to a five-year $9.2 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Providence/Boston Center for AIDS Research has launched a new scientific working group on expanding combined HIV and oral health research, tapping Dr. Michelle Henshaw, SPH 96 DPH 07, GSDM associate dean of global & population health, to co-lead the effort.  

The scientific working group (SWG) — which Henshaw is co-leading with Curt Beckwith, Prov/Bos CFAR associate director, and Hisashi Akiyama, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine research assistant professor — is going to address research gaps in how HIV and associated co-morbidities contribute to oral diseases, in addition to developing new multidisciplinary research projects focusing on supporting early-stage investigators.  

After receiving the award from NIH, Prov/Bos CFAR increased its significant investments in enhancing HIV education, prevention, treatment, and research activities that adequately respond to the interests and needs of community members, particularly focused on marginalized populations. The organization has been committed to the pursuit of translational research to reduce human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection since its origin in 1998. 

According to Henshaw, the group is currently working on two large, randomized control trials. One trial is seeking to integrate rapid HIV testing into dental clinics and community health centers, targeting a demographic of people who seek dental care but do not go to primary care and other medical appointments. Suffolk County — and Boston as the epicenter — is a geographic hotspot of new HIV infections in the Northeast, and Henshaw said there is a need to help address these new, higher incidence rates. 

“With rapid testing, the sooner people get diagnosed and sooner they can get into treatment, the better outcomes, the better the quality of life that they’re going to have,” Henshaw said. “It also has the ripple effect that hopefully if they know their status, that they’ll make healthier choices and reduce future transmissions to other people.” 

The group’s other research interest is focused on HIV prevention. Henshaw said they are developing a text messaging program for dental patients who have a risk factor for HIV to educate them on how to reduce that risk, such as promoting safe sex practices.  

Henshaw said the two trials recently finished the feasibility developmental phase and are now awaiting notice of award to move into the trial phase. She is hoping they will start the text messaging program later this year.  

“There are definitely oral health ramifications of HIV,” Henshaw said. “[We need to] try and see where we can collaboratively work to address this overall problem… It’s trying to think creatively and bring new people to the table to find new ways to address the epidemic.”  


By Rachel Grace Philipson