Nabila El-Bassel

Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, HPTN 094 study co-chair, is a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York. She is also director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG), director of the Columbia University Center for Healing of Opioid and Substance Use Disorders (CHOSEN), and director of the Columbia University Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA). Dr. El-Bassel has designed and tested many cutting-edge, multilevel HIV/AIDS and drug-use prevention and intervention models. She has served on the HPTN Substance Use Scientific Committee for over a decade.

What aspect of your role do you enjoy the most?

Balancing research, teaching, and directing research centers can be challenging, but these roles complement each other well. I'm fulfilled by advancing scientific HIV/AIDS and addiction intervention and prevention research by integrating citizen science and implementation science, ensuring the research is relevant to our study communities. Community involvement at every stage enhances the quality of our research and its relevancy to the community studied. Training faculty and pre- and post-docs also brings me joy, as it fosters a more inclusive and future-knowledgeable scientific community.

Who has been the most significant influence in your career? Why?

The late Dr. Zena Stein had an immense influence on how I approach my HIV/AIDS research. Dr. Stein was a pioneering epidemiologist and public health physician who significantly contributed to community-based medicine and social justice. Dr. Stein aimed to identify the social, economic, and political conditions that affect population health rather than just focusing on individual-level factors. She led groundbreaking research on women's health at a time when most scientific study on HIV/AIDS was centered on men. Dr. Stein greatly influenced me as a doctoral student and then a junior faculty member. I continue to emulate her commitment and use her approaches in my current research.

What has been one of your proudest moments as a member of the HPTN?

HPTN's scientific contributions have been pivotal in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Through numerous studies, HPTN investigators have meaningfully contributed to preventing transmission and expanding access to testing and treatment. Particularly inspiring is the landmark HPTN 052 study, revealing that early antiretroviral therapy (ART) can reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates by up to 96%. This groundbreaking discovery established the concept of "treatment as prevention," improved ART accessibility worldwide, and shaped a new era of prevention and treatment studies.

What has been the biggest challenge working in HIV/AIDS prevention research?

While great strides have been made in HIV/AIDS biomedical and behavioral prevention research, the three biggest challenges that remain in my HIV/AIDS research are: First, many interventions and prevention models overlook crucial economic and social factors that drive the epidemic, such as lack of access to healthcare, persistent stigma, etc. Second, studies on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment often stop short when it comes to the benefits of community engagement. Most intervention models do little more than involve a community advisory board. Lastly, investment/funding for the implementation and dissemination of evidence-based interventions in HIV/AIDS research is scarce. Limited funding hampers the widespread adoption of evidence-based prevention programs. To achieve success, we must address these issues. My research prioritizes community involvement at every stage, emphasizing design, implementation, and dissemination.

What inspires you?

What fuels my passion for research is the remarkable resilience of the communities we work with in HIV/AIDS research. Despite facing significant challenges such as poverty, discrimination, and limited access to services, these communities have confronted this devastating epidemic with unwavering courage for more than four decades. Their resilience is genuinely inspiring and serves as a driving force behind my dedication to impactful HIV/AIDS research.

What advice do you have for new HPTN members?

At HPTN, senior leadership and researchers are not only dedicated to pushing the boundaries of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment research but also to nurturing the next generation of researchers. Their passion and commitment create an environment rich with collaboration and mentorship, including robust scientific groups and mentorship programs. New members are encouraged to dive into scientific committees, fully immerse themselves in HPTN's dynamic research landscape, and form meaningful connections with experienced investigators.