Revised February 2015
Your Avant-Garde award—awarded in 2012—was given for the project entitled “Molecular epidemiology for HIV prevention for drug users and other risk groups.” What was your vision for this concept?
My vision was for us to characterize the transmission network of HIV in the San Diego and Tijuana region. We could use that information to develop interventions to effectively target the network and prevent new infections.
How has the award helped you advance this area of science?
This award has been incredible in advancing this area of science. We were able to assemble a great group of investigators that included bioinformaticians, molecular virologists, HIV clinicians, addiction specialists, epidemiologists and others. In a relatively short time, this team of investigators has been able to develop new methods to best understand the local, national and international HIV transmission network(s), use these new methods and techniques to best characterize these networks to create prevention interventions and export these methods around the world. Currently, we have developed working collaborations in the United States (North Carolina, New York, Michigan, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.), Mexico and Latin America, South Korea, China, India, Romania, Kenya and Mozambique. The field is advancing quickly and this team is one of the main reasons so much progress has been made.
Have there been any surprises or unusual challenges along the way?
The biggest surprise for me has been that people have become more receptive to the methods of using network information to target prevention interventions. When I first talked about these methods and started to work on applying for the Avant-Garde award, many HIV researchers and prevention experts were skeptical. This made it very difficult to obtain funding in this area using standard NIH mechanisms, which is why the Avant-Garde mechanism was so crucial to our success.
What advice would you give to others seeking similar awards for bold and innovative science?
My advice is to believe in your idea, even if not everyone is on board yet.
Where will your vision of HIV/AIDS research take you next?
I have been thinking a lot about HIV cure strategies lately. I am very excited about the science and the possibilities. While I understand that there is much to be done and the road will be long, I still think it is a journey worth taking.