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Diversity Science Spotlight

SoAP Box: 
Diversity Science Spotlight

Spring 2023

Neo Gebru, PhD

At what stage are you in your career, and what is your current affiliation?
I am a first-year postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies (CAAS) at the Brown University School of Public Health.

How would you describe your research interests?
Broadly, my research focuses on psychosocial factors related to substance use and HIV-related outcomes, particularly alcohol use and sexual risk-taking. In turn, I seek to develop and test behavioral interventions aimed at reducing substance misuse and HIV risk, particularly among young adults.

How did you become interested in developing interventions for addictive behaviors?
My first hands-on experience with substance use intervention research was while I was completing my masters in Clinical Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. At the time, I volunteered as a Research Assistant at the Center for Addictions, Personality, and Emotion Research (CAPER) led by Dr. Carl Lejuez, where I was trained and provided a mindfulness-based intervention for substance-using adolescents. My experience there was critical in shaping my trajectory, as I learned to view substance misuse holistically – as problems that result from interactions of multifaceted risk factors across individual and environmental levels. This also motivates me to continue my research devising interventions that can facilitate behavior change.

Congratulations on your work published in Substance Use and Misuse, titled, “Relationships among Substance Use, Sociodemographics, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Awareness and Related Attitudes among Young Adult Men who Have Sex with Men.” What do you view as the key takeaways from this work that are important for Division 50 members to know? What are the implications of this work?
Thank you! This paper is one really great example about how survey data can help us identify potential areas for intervention. This helps policy makers and funders identify priority areas for research. In this paper, we surveyed over 500 young adult (ages 18-30) HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) from the Southern U.S. We chose to focus on young adult MSM because they account for a disproportionate majority of all new HIV cases, and we focused on Southern U.S. because it is the area most impacted by HIV in the U.S. We asked participants about their substance use, sexual behaviors, and whether they were aware of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is a highly effective HIV prevention medication. The good news was that, among the 506 participants, a large majority (89%) had at least heard of PrEP. Unfortunately, when we compared people who were aware of PrEP with the people who were not aware of PrEP, participants with high alcohol use had higher odds of not having heard of PrEP. Even though it did not reach statistical significance, there was a trend for people who were not White to not have heard about PrEP, compared to those who were White. Findings that show people who use substances heavily and people of color were less likely to have heard about PrEP are concerning and suggests that there may be priority subgroups within young adult MSM that can benefit from additional educational campaigns. HIV prevention efforts may tailor PrEP informational materials to ensure that people who need them the most are aware and work to ease access to PrEP.

How do you see your research interests evolving in the future?
Recently, I have been exploring ways in which technology and behavioral theories can be integrated to develop behavioral interventions that can not only initiate, but also maintain, behavior change, particularly in reducing alcohol use and HIV risk. Technology allows for easy delivery of intervention content, enhancing reach and scalability of interventions, while also engaging recipients in their natural environments, potentially increasing intervention saliency and effect. I am excited to see how technology evolves in the coming years, and to think of ways to leverage those advancements to enhance health and wellness. 

Gebru, N. M., Benvenuti, M. C., Rowland, B. H. P., Kalkat, M., Chauca, P. G., Leeman, R. F. (2022). Relationships among Substance Use, Sociodemographics, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Awareness and Related Attitudes among Young Adult Men who Have Sex with Men. Substance Use and Misuse. 57(5), 786-798.

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