Better Data, Better Health
Researcher Smita Nimkar discusses how an amfAR-directed data science mentorship program is helping her help children living with HIV in India and the Asia region
Accurate and robust research data are the foundation of responding to the needs and concerns of people impacted by HIV/AIDS. Those data depend in part on researchers who not only know how to collect and interpret them, but also understand their interconnections within wider networks of data. Researcher Smita Nimkar, of BJ Medical College in Pune, India, is fine-tuning this skill set thanks to the Fogarty-IeDEA Mentorship Program (FIMP).
FIMP helps emerging researchers develop skills in study design, data management, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of research involving large HIV clinical databases generated within the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s International epidemiology Databases to Evaluate AIDS (IeDEA), a collaboration with the Kirby Institute. amfAR’s TREAT Asia program leads the Asia-Pacific component of IeDEA and oversees FIMP in the region.
As a FIMP trainee, Smita Nimkar, who is currently working on her Ph.D. in health and biomedical sciences, aims to apply what she is learning to her research on long-term treatment outcomes for children and adolescents living with perinatally acquired HIV in the TREAT Asia network. As part of the mentorship, she recently traveled to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, for in-person training at the Kirby Institute.
Azar Kariminia, Ph.D., project statistician and coordinator of TApHOD (TREAT Asia Pediatric HIV Observational Database), and the biostatistician who conducted the training, shared: “Smita has seen how the data she has provided over the years as a study site team member contributed to the betterment of the care of people living with HIV. It is so nice to see this training help Smita explore the data on her own and to identify data relationships.”
Professor Matthew Law, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of IeDEA Asia-Pacific and head of the biostatistics and databases program at the Kirby Institute, noted: “This type of collaborative training and capacity building is very important to the culture of the Kirby Institute. The face-to-face training simply make sense, and Smita’s enthusiasm was impressive.”
amfAR recently interviewed Smita Nimkar about her HIV research and experience as a FIMP trainee.
How did you become interested in HIV research?
I have long been interested in the world of microbes, how they cause infections, and disease pathology. I also have had a passion for working in healthcare research. When I got the opportunity, I realized that HIV was the field I wanted to work in. HIV is a multisystemic disease and there are behavioral, biomedical, and social angles to understanding and managing it. It provides an opportunity to learn multidisciplinary systems and interactions and how they can all affect human health. That was the reason I became interested and thought I could contribute something to the science as well as human health.
What did the FIMP training involve?
My training involved data management, starting from data cleaning, merging different databases, and preparing the final database for analysis. In my research, I have analyzed the data from almost 6,050 children at TApHOD sites across the Asia region. Through FIMP, I got the opportunity to learn data management and analysis skills using STATA software. I also received training on how to interpret my results and prepare a manuscript. FIMP mentorship has given me the opportunity to become a better researcher.
What are the most pressing issues you are trying to address in your FIMP research?
With the availability of combination antiretroviral therapy, HIV has become a manageable disease and now it is like a chronic condition. Children are surviving longer with access to diagnosis, treatment, and care. But very limited data are available on their long-term outcomes. For the past 15 years, TApHOD has collected data across the Asia region and gives us an opportunity to understand survival after long-term treatment in children with HIV and risk factors associated with loss to follow-up. With my current research, I am studying the treatment outcomes of children and adolescents who have been on HIV treatment for at least five years. Do they have a better chance of surviving and of staying in care? What are the risk factors for death and loss to follow-up?
In general, how has the Fogarty-IeDEA Mentorship Program helped you as a researcher?
This program has been very helpful for me, as I am managing various studies under the TREAT Asia program that are conducted at our clinical site in Pune, India. And it has given me confidence, motivation, and encouragement to do further research on HIV.