LaRon E. Nelson, PhD, RN, FNP is the Associate Dean for Global Health and Equity, Independence Foundation Professor, and Associate Professor at the Yale School of Nursing in Orange, Conn. He was lead implementation scientist on HPTN 073 where he led the development of the client-centered care coordination model that was used to support PrEP for Black MSM. He is currently the HPTN Black Caucus representative to the AMP Study (HVTN 703/HPTN 081 and HVTN 704/HPTN 085) protocol teams.
How did you first get involved with the HPTN?
I first became involved as an external community stakeholder advising the protocol team on the development and implementation of HPTN 061. At that time, I was co-chairing the Black Gay Research Group and we had a significant interest in HPTN 061 because we saw it as a high-stakes study given how the HIV epidemic was disproportionally impacting Black gay and non-gay identified men who have sex with other men. I became more formally involved in the Network in 2010 when I was selected for the first cohort of the HPTN Domestic Scholar’s Program. Under the mentorship of Dr. Ken Mayer, I led two research projects based on data from HPTN 061.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do in support of the HPTN?
A great deal of the work I do in support of the Network involves trying to ensure protocols that are developed consider—seriously consider—the realities of the Black communities from which many of the study samples will be drawn. The HPTN is a large network of scientists with a wide variety of expertise and perspectives. It has sometimes taken considerable effort to demonstrate the scientific value of attending to social, cultural, and political nuance of life for study participants when developing research questions and designing protocols. I have seen an evolution towards more willingness to tackle some of these issues in efforts to demonstrate community-responsiveness and respect for the humanity of participants as not solely research subjects.
What do you think will change about HIV prevention over the next five years?
I am hopeful the AMP Study will demonstrate the efficacy of the VRC01 broadly neutralizing antibody in preventing HIV infection and the field will be preparing to develop a vaccine to produce the antibody. In the meantime, I believe more research focus will be on testing implementation models to optimize the impact of existing evidence-based prevention strategies such as HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis and treatment as prevention.
What do you wish other people knew about your work?
My scientific contributions to the HPTN are inextricably linked to my clinical and professional backgrounds as a public health nurse and nurse practitioner. Both roles influence the perspective that I bring to the Network’s collaborative research process. I am not sure how well-represented nurses are as investigators in the HPTN, but I want my involvement in the Network to continue to bring visibility to the role of nurses in advancing HIV prevention science.
What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?
People will be surprised to know I served in the U.S. military for four years after graduating high school. This is where I developed a strong work ethic and commitment to principles of honorable service and justice. These all still influence the research today. Most people will also be surprised that, since childhood, I was always interested in law and politics. While I was still on active duty, I mapped out a long-term plan to become a Navy lawyer; but, when I completed the armed services vocational aptitude test it indicated my ideal professional track was in health care….so I ended up in nursing school instead of law school. The rest is history. I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I am doing right now. I think that test was valid!
What do you do when you aren't working?
I am almost always working…but during small windows of free time I like to binge-watch Netflix on the shows I missed during the season. I also travel often for my research work; therefore, whenever I have a break I try my best to make a visit to my hometown of Savannah, Georgia to spend time with my family and friends.