Dr. Ariane van der Straten, chair of the HPTN Behavioral Research Working Group, is director of the San Francisco-based Women's Global Health Imperative program at RTI International. She is also an RTI senior fellow and professor at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine's Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. Dr. van der Straten has more than 25 years of experience conducting socio-behavioral and biomedical research for sexual health and HIV prevention in women, including preclinical and Phase I to Phase III trials evaluating short and long-acting HIV prevention approaches (topical, oral, injectable, or implantable), and multipurpose prevention technologies for HIV and pregnancy prevention.
What attracted you to a career in HIV prevention research?
The disease's complexity, from the immunological and virological levels to the social and structural challenges highlighted in society.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
Discussing new ideas, new topics, and study designs with colleagues and developing creative solutions. In other words, what I like is "connecting the dots," especially across disciplines.
What has surprised you most about working in HIV prevention research?
The number of successes that we have achieved in the past ten years. I feel very fortunate to have worked in a field where 20 years ago, acquiring HIV was a death sentence. Nowadays, it is a manageable chronic disease with multiple options available for prevention. Furthermore, the cure and ending the epidemic are now topics of scientific inquiry.
Who has been the most significant influence in your career? Why?
It may sound cheesy, but in the early nineties, when I decided to leave laboratory sciences to get "dirty" in the field, I hesitated which path to take. During that time, I volunteered with an organization in Baltimore called HERO and became a buddy for a young woman my age who was dying of AIDS. She gave me the incredible gift of becoming my friend for the few months she was still alive and sharing the human face of AIDS with me. Concurrently I worked with a feminist anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University. She opened a different window to me, with an alternative way to see and understand reality. Whereas her path was not the one I chose, I have carried her orthogonal perspective throughout my career in HIV prevention.
What volunteering or passion projects do you do outside of work?
Traveling… COVID-19 permitting.
What is your guilty pleasure?