Background and Overview


During his training in the MD/PhD Program at the University of Chicago, Dr. Ostrow co-founded the first gay community health center, now the Howard Brown Health Center of Chicago. There he identified Hepatitis B as a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among gay men, which led to his Chicago PI role in the CDC-funded Hep B Epidemiology and Vaccine Efficacy Studies (1976-81). As the founding PI of the subsequent Chicago MACS (1983-1985), then co-PI of the Coping & Change Study of Men in the Chicago MACS (1985-1999), and later founder of the Behavioral Working Group (BWG) of the MACS (1991-2011), he focussed on the relationship between sexual behavior, drug use and the evolution of HIV transmission and prevention among drug using MSM. He is an Investigator or consultant on most of the NIDA funded studies of drugs, alcohol and HIV in the MACS, including his own study of the Social and Risk Networks Assessment of younger Black MSM (2009-2011). This study led to a recently funded study of the dynamic roles of social and risk networks as drivers of the increasing epidemic of new HIV infections among younger Black MSM in Chicago. As the senior behavioral investigator in the MACS, he plans to use the upcoming open recruitment of men at highest risk of or recently infected with HIV to extend these studies to the geographically and racially diverse cohort of HIV+ and HIV- men. Since the late ‘90s, Dr. Ostrow has been active in the movement to change failed national drug policies, such as cannabis prohibition, with more effective and compassionate policies, including regulation and legalization of cannabis use, integration of Cannabinoid Medicine training into the Medical Student curriculum, and the formation of a Community-Based Clinical Cannabis Research Network that can inform scientifically based MC treatment guidelines.

Senior Scientist National Opinion Research Center (NORC) 2007 – 2012 (5 years) Greater Chicago Area

Directed research program within the Stouffer-Ogburn Center for Social Organizational Research that is actively researching and developing peer and structural interventions for the most vulnerable persons at highest risk of HIV/AIDS in Chicago and other metropolitan areas of the US. This work is largely based on assessment methods developed by Dr. Ostrow and colleagues to determine the biopsychosocial drivers of the continuing concentration of newly diagnosed HIV infections in the Chicago among younger Black men who have sex with other men as well as with women.

Chair, Behavioral Working GroupMulticenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) 1991– 2011 (20 years) 

Coordinated all behavioral and HIV prevention research related to the largest longitudinal study of gay/bisexual men, both with and without HIV infection, based in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore/DC and LA. Conducted monthly meetings of all members of the BWG and outside investigators interested in working with MACS behavioral data, wrote semi-annual progress reports on all BWG research activities involving MACS subjects or data and prepared Behavioral and HIV Prevention Research sections of MACS funding renewal applications. Major accomplishments included launching first studies of the behavioral, attitudinal and sexual practice implications of the new anti-retroviral treatments beginning in 1996; obtaining funding from NIDA/NIMH for an additional 12 add-on projects to study the role of drugs and mental health in HIV infection and disease progression among men in the MACS; and the demonstration that 2/3rds of all new recent HIV infections in the MACS were associated with the use of stimulants, poppers or erectile dysfunction drugs, either alone or in combination.

Grantee- Coping and Change Study; Mens Attitude Survey Projects NIMH  1985 – September 2001 (16 years)  Chicago and the four field sites of the Multi center AIDS Cohort Study

The Coping and Change Study was the first longitudinal study of the impact, coping and behavioral adaptation to the AIDS epidemic among gay & bisexual men. It was conducted as a parallel study to the Chicago MACS. Started by Professor Jill Joseph and colleagues at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 1985, Dr. Ostrow moved to Ann Arbor in 1986 as the psychiatric co-Investigator of this study as well as to continue his biological psychiatry research as an Associate Professor of Psychiatry; learn advanced survey research methodologies to track evolution of "sensitive" behaviors such as sexual and drug use as an Investigator at the Institute for Social Research; and collaborate with AIDS epidemiology and prevention researchers as a member of the Epidemiology Department of the School of Public Health.

Many important defining discoveries during the first two decades of the AIDS epidemic sprang from this multi-disciplinary collaboration across Schools and Departments at the University of Michigan and the Howard Brown Clinic and Northwestern University of Chicago, including: The importance of self-perceived HIV infection and symptoms in determining mental health and ability to cope with the stresses of the AIDS epidemic when there were no effective treatments to prevent large portions of the gay/bisexual communities being lost to HIV-related illness and death; the importance of psychological counseling at the time of learning one's HIV test result status in determining negative vs. positive reactions to finding out ones HIV infection status; the coping mechanisms and types of social support that facilitated survival & adaptation to the increasing toll the AIDS epidemic was having on individuals and their communities; & the efficacy of belief & attitudinal changes in reducing HIV risk behaviors and adoption of risk reduction practices to limit spread of infection among gay/bisexual men.

He established the Midwest AIDS Biobehavioral Research Center during this period.

The article below discusses the life and work of Dr. David Ostrow, a physician and AIDS patient based in Chicago, Illinois. It was published February 20th 2012 in the Windy City Times by Kate Sosin.

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