By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow
“If you believe it, you can achieve it,” reflects Shantrel Canidate, M.P.H., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and associate director for outreach and community partnerships at the Emerging Pathogens Institute.
This past spring, Canidate was awarded a prestigious K01 grant, a research career development award from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse, for her work in HIV research.
The K01 grant will support Candidate’s research in HIV prevention and treatment for Black men who have sex with men (MSM), and her work on syndemic conditions, which are the interaction of two or more factors or health conditions that increase the burden of HIV among the Black MSM population, and racial disparities that impact viral suppression and disease management in Black MSM patients living in the South.
“Black men who have sex with men in the South had the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses (48%) and the second highest rate of HIV prevalence (31%) among MSM of all races in 2018,” Canidate said.
Her research prioritizes filling an important gap in current HIV literature.
“To date, no study has sought to identify the subgroups of Black MSM living with HIV in Florida who could benefit from a shared biobehavioral intervention to improve social support and viral suppression based on their shared characteristics,” Canidate said. “My study will be crucial in designing measures to reduce or eliminate racial and geographic disparities.”
The outcomes of the research conducted through Canidate’s new RHISER (Reducing Health Inequities So Everyone Can Rise) lab, may have wide-ranging impacts on both HIV treatment and policy for underserved patients. For Canidate, improving current models of care for HIV prevention, as well as working to end the HIV epidemic, are focal points of her research efforts.
“I am trying to build a program that allows me to conduct meaningful research toward reducing health disparities among African Americans, ultimately leading to the achievement of health equity among this population,” said Canidate.
For Canidate, this milestone moment is the culmination of both hard work and manifested dreams.
“I am big on planning and manifesting my dreams into reality,” said Canidate. “My K01 grant is in an area that I am very passionate about and have been for years.”
Canidate began her career working at a pharmacy while simultaneously pursuing her associate’s degree, cultivating a passion for the health sciences early on. She continued her education at the University of Central Florida, where she received her bachelor’s in health services administration. It was during this time that she discovered public health approaches to HIV prevention and care. She enrolled in the UF PHHP Master of Public Health program and homed in on research specialties relating to health disparities in HIV care and treatment. She worked as an HIV outreach coordinator with the Alachua County Health Department before earning a Ph.D. in public health with a social and behavioral sciences concentration from PHHP.
For her next steps, Canidate has big plans: “After the K01, I plan to secure R01 funding (a National Institutes of Health grant devoted to advancing health research) to develop a biobehavioral, culturally tailored HIV intervention to support and improve HIV care continuum outcomes among Black MSM living in the South.”
Canidate is also interested in further exploring the role of churches, barbershops and beauty salons in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“As a researcher, you’re constantly praying and hoping that the (grant) reviewers believe in your idea enough to give you the money to conduct the research to effectively make change,” Canidate said. “When that happens, it’s such a sigh of relief because they see your vision and they believe in you enough to support your research.”
In her free time, Canidate enjoys quality moments with her husband and five-year-old son, traveling and experiencing different cultures, curling up on the couch to rewatch beloved Disney films, and nurturing her creative side through baking, writing poetry, and creating with her Cricut.