Allison Mathews - Innovate your cool

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Durham is known for being a hub for entrepreneurship, but it's not as well known that Durham County has one of the largest populations of HIV-positive people in the country. It’s also the No. 3 county in North Carolina for newly-diagnosed HIV cases. 

Allison Mathews, a Doctor of Sociology at the University of Chapel Hill, is trying to reverse those statistics, not only through research but by crowdsourcing a cure. The Research Triangle is a global center for HIV and AIDS research, with researchers at UNC and Duke studying new therapies and ways to prevent the disease from mutating, but Mathews thinks the community should be involved. 

Mathews shared her vision for an initiative called 2BeatHIV this past Saturday at the Innovate Your Cool Conference, an event centered around music, innovation and culture and tied to the Art of Cool Festival in Durham. According to conference organizer Michael English, (who also works as ExitEvent’s sales associate), Mathews was invited because her work combines innovation, technology and art in a way that impacts the Durham, and potentially global, community. 

2BeatHIV logo
2BeatHIV is a project that involves the community in finding a cure for HIV.

Mathews' research project, which launched last year at the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, starts with online innovation contests and building awareness around HIV testing, so that affected patients can get medication for the disease. Its tagline is "Own the Cure."

Contests have challenged the community—particularly African Americans in Durham, the population predominantly affected by HIV—to design graphics or stickers, or to create a video to answer “what does an HIV cure mean to you?”. 

2BeatHIV also participated in World HIV Day last November by hosting a celebration at the LGBTQ Center and participating in a global Twitter conversation on potential HIV cures and treatment with experts.  

The project is funded through a five-year National Institutes of Health grant with the purpose of finding new and innovative ways to involve the community in HIV research. Mathews hopes technology, art and music will all be involved, and that her work evolves from educating and building awareness around testing and medication, to collaborating around discovery of potential cures.

Mathews told the crowd that crowdsourcing is not something new—it is something that has been practiced for centuries. She stresses that individuals are not always strong enough to find a solution, but working together can get people closer to important answers. It happens all the time in software development—it should happen in life-saving fields as well.

The next 2BeatHIV event will be a “Red is the New Black” Fashion show on June 4th in partnership with Sheryl Lee Ralph, an HIV activist and actress. The event will showcase the latest fashions while promoting HIV awareness.