Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, chair of the HPTN Ethics Working Group, is the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He is an internationally recognized leader in bioethics with expertise in applying empirical methods and evidence-based standards for evaluating and analyzing bioethical issues. His contributions to bioethics and policy include his work on the ethics of informed consent, umbilical cord blood banking, stem cell research, international HIV prevention research, global health, and research oversight.
What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy working with the whole range of stakeholders in HIV prevention research since there are always opportunities to learn from them and gain new perspectives. I often think about how lucky I am to be part of different teams made up of intelligent, creative, and dedicated people.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
Trying to make progress towards mitigating the hugely important problem of the HIV epidemic through the conduct of cutting-edge, ethically sound research.
What has been one of your proudest moments as a member of the HPTN?
Given the enormous social risks related to participation in some HPTN research, we developed a systematic way of developing, implementing, and monitoring risk mitigation plans over time. It has been heartening to see that despite the profound risks posed at the outset, we have conducted important HIV prevention research with a lack of harm using these approaches with dedicated research teams and community partners. In addition, we have been able to document that many participants experience social benefits from research.
What has been the biggest challenge working in HIV prevention research?
As with many types of research, it can sometimes be difficult for those new to the network to understand what the value of ethics input can be across the life cycle from planning to approvals, implementation, reporting, and beyond. It is not uncommon for researchers to inappropriately equate ethics with regulatory approvals or simply perseverations over consent forms. A perennial challenge involves making the value proposition for addressing the ethical questions that inevitably relate to the scientific issues. Doing this sometimes requires “speaking truth to power,” raising ethical research questions even when everyone else in the room seems to be on board with it.
What advice do you have for new HPTN members?
Take some time to get to know the people at FHI 360 who keep the Network and its projects going. Because many people work across specific trials, they tend to have a broader view of the whole and help put particular issues and requests into context.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I enjoy having leisurely dinners with friends at hawker centers in Malaysia and Singapore. There is such a great variety of tastes and smells, not to mention the considerable diversity of people and personalities. Perhaps surprisingly, it always seems possible to relax amidst the surrounding chaos.