That was an epiphany for me?
"You see that lack of access amid such dire need and you know you can’t stay in the lab examining just one small part of the problem.
—Brian Mustanksi, PhD
“When our study showed that one in seven young gay men age 16 to 24 are infected with HIV, it floored me,” said Brian Mustanski, assistant professor at IJR. “The actual numbers are no doubt higher, and yet there are no empirically tested interventions to reduce risk in this group. I walked into a community organization for lesbian and gay teens we work with, and the kids needed such a range of services, from HIV tests to mental health treatment to medical or housing services, and even just a hot shower. I realized then just how much need there was—and the utter lack of resources to fill those needs. You see that and you know you can’t stay in the lab examining just one small part of the problem.”
Mustanski could have easily stayed in the lab. His early career included an impressive body of research on how genes influence behavior and the genetics of sexual orientation. But in coming to IJR, he realized that he could apply his basic science background to help fill the need directly.
“I was talking with a colleague who was testing how regulation of emotion influences risk-taking. My impulse was to design an experiment in the lab.” Instead, she suggested they develop an intervention and then compare its results to a control group that gets the standard treatment. “I thought, wow, we can do that? We can develop an intervention to answer a basic question and at the same time maybe help some youth?
That’s not how scientists are typically trained.
That was an epiphany for me.”
Today Mustanski and his colleagues are designing the first long-term study to examine the multiple health risks and their influences that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth face. This will directly influence future intervention research. Meanwhile, Mustanski is also designing an Internet-based intervention to help increase knowledge, skills, and support that he hopes can counteract gay and lesbian youth’s higher risk for HIV, victimization, depression and suicide, and substance use.
“Youth anywhere, anytime, can tap into the intervention via the Internet,” he says. “Hopefully that access will broaden its reach and impact.
Right now, there’s almost nothing there for them, and that’s what makes me stick with it and do something about the problem.”