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UNC Center for AIDS Research database collaboration with SAS also helping patient care

CHAPEL HILL - A software grant from SAS to the UNC Center for AIDS Research for data warehousing is also yielding valuable patient care benefits. The SAS-UNC collaboration is part of a five-year, $600,000 grant from SAS to develop an electronic AIDS research database and data warehouse. The project, which recently became operational, is also a boon to individual university AIDS patients whose care has improved as a result of the more accessible and accurate clinical and demographic information.

"Our collaboration with SAS initially arose from a strong need to get clinical and research data about our HIV patients into an organized form," said Dr. Joseph J. Eron, Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) clinical core director and associate professor of medicine at the university. "With help and expertise from SAS, we developed an incredibly powerful tool for doing both clinical and translational research, moving clinicians and basic scientists closer together. And, while it wasn't our primary intention, the database already is improving the care of people in our clinic because clinical providers now have their information in a much more organized format."

"This project is an example of the tremendous possibilities that result from combining powerful analytic software with dedicated, innovative research professionals," said Dr. Jim Goodnight, President and CEO of SAS. "Turning data into knowledge is what SAS does best; working with UNC-CFAR to use that knowledge to improve people's lives is a cause we are honored to be a part of."

Through the on-line database, doctors at the UNC HIV clinic receive reminders on basic health maintenance issues that help update their patients' immunizations, such as vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, pneumonia, influenza and any tests that need to be ordered. Another feature of the database is a graphic printout of patients' immune cell count and viral load. These graphs help demonstrate the impact medication is having on the patient's health.

The clinical and demographic information collected includes CD4 cell count, HIV RNA blood level and other laboratory and clinical data indicative of past and present immune system functioning, medication history and immunization history. Also included is health condition at time of initial care at UNC, demographic and social support information.

Entered into the database, the information, now organized, allows for more effective and efficient data analysis, including group comparisons for research. Having this database also improves collaboration potential with other HIV researchers both within the university and elsewhere. This is important for HIV research where large, diverse study samples are needed to help better understand the epidemic, including prevention and treatment.

Eron said he hopes one of the ways the database will grow is through UNC involvement with multiple clinics elsewhere in the state. He also notes that plans are afoot for a "super database" involving all 18 Centers for Aids Research in the United States. "Currently, we're among the few that have an organized database," he said.

"This has been a remarkable collaborative effort between the UNC CFAR Clinical Core, UNC Hospitals, SAS, and most of all our patients, who have graciously (and enthusiastically) agreed to participate. University medical centers and hospitals carry a special responsibility to pursue new knowledge through clinical research," said Dr. Ron Swanstrom, director, UNC CFAR and professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC School of Medicine. "We are especially grateful to have had the opportunity to bring the intellectual force of SAS to bear on this problem in HIV/AIDS research, and we hope this is a relationship we can build on into the future."

Source : University of North Carolina School of Medicine