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Monday, September 25, 2023

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Trans PrEP Research Team (from left): Carrie Nacht, Erik Storholm, Risa Flynn, Kyle Ryan, Chloe Opalo, Alvy Rangel Trans PrEP Research Team (from left): Carrie Nacht, Erik Storholm, Risa Flynn, Kyle Ryan, Chloe Opalo, Alvy Rangel

Transgender Lab Research Team Addresses HIV Prevention

A public health researcher’s work could help reduce health disparities and expand transgender women’s access to a lifesaving drug.
By Peggy Pico

This article first appeared in the 2020-21 SDSU Research Highlights, published in December 2021.

In a vital effort to reduce health disparities and barriers in the transgender community, San Diego State University public health researcher Erik Storholm has established an innovative lab and research partnership with the Transgender Wellness Center (TWC) in Los Angeles.

Storholm, who leads a transgender and non-binary research lab at SDSU, aims to reduce cases of HIV among transgender women by increasing their use of HIV-prevention medicine.

Transgender women, especially Latinx and Black transgender women, urgently need more HIV-prevention and treatment services, according to a comprehensive 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A survey for the report found 40% of transgender women surveyed in the U.S. have HIV, with significant racial disparities. Some 62% of Black respondents and 35% of Latina respondents had HIV, compared  with 17% of white transgender women.   

Almost all HIV infections in the U.S. can be averted with the once-a-day, low-cost HIV-prevention medicine Pre-exposure prophylaxis, known commonly as PrEP. Yet only about a third of transgender women take PrEP. Obstacles limiting its use include socioeconomic barriers, stigma, racism, inequities in employment and housing inequity.

Citing his research focused on HIV, barriers to treatment, abuse, and sexual health in the LGBTQ+ community, advocates in Los Angeles reached out to Storholm and asked him to develop a project to help increase the use of PrEP by underserved transgender and nonbinary women in Southern California.   

The center selected Storholm due to a longstanding body of work on HIV, which included study of barriers to health for transgender women.

Located along Wilshire Boulevard in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood, the center came about through work and advocacy within the transgender community, Storholm said. “They asked me to collaborate on an intervention-based HIV prevention research project to address barriers,” he said. “I am honored to be a part of this opportunity.”

With funding from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, the PrEP project will put scalable policies and partnerships in place to ensure low cost or free access to the medication. Storholm’s research leverages intervention science and promotes the adoption of evidence-based practices and policies into health care settings.  

“We have to ask what’s going to be sustainable within the community. I think there is a movement towards implementation science and really studying the strategies of implementing interventions,” Storholm said.