Project CARE activities in Russia - interview with Marina Bobkova
Today in the partner spotlight is Marina Bobkova, Doctor of Biological Sciences, chief researcher from the Department of General Virology at N.F. Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology (Russia).
What is your role in the project and what motivated you to join it?
I am the coordinator of the Russian arm of the CARE Project. This role entails both direct management of the HIV and HCV project research as well as ensuring communication between all project participants, including specialists engaged in the tuberculosis research. I am also involved in overseeing project activities, documentation and organization of meetings and discussions.
It is not the first time that we take part in an international project and previous experience has shown us that every such collaboration provides a strong impetus for further development of our laboratory, (note: Leukemia Virus Laboratory), the emergence of new ideas and access to new interesting data. We were invited to join the CARE project by our European colleagues with whom we previously worked on the issue of drug resistance to HIV.
What makes this project unique in your opinion?
The most unique feature of this project is its scale – both in the number of research objectives and in the volume of material and patient data. The study simultaneously focuses on three socially significant infections - HIV, HCV and tuberculosis. Some of the research streams are new for Russian scientists. For example, we are very pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the research of human genetics in relation to the treatment efficacy and HIV treatment complications. This topic is very interesting but is not yet supported in Russia.
Another unique element of the project for the Russian researchers is the format of participation. Previously, international research in Russia has been funded by international funds or the EU. In this new format support to the Russian scientists is only provided by the Russian Ministry of Science. Along the way we encountered a number of organizational challenges which has given us substantial experience that will be useful going forward.
Can you tell us about the research you are doing in CARE?
For the scientists involved in HIV research the main goal of the project was to compile an extensive collection of biomaterial and clinical data on patients from two Russian cities - Moscow and Krasnodar. We plan to further expand this collection with data and material collected in Russia over the past few years.
In parallel with the blood sample collection, we are conducting HIV-1 genome analysis, including the study of the prevalence of drug resistance mutations in patients initiating ART treatment and implementation of the whole genome sequencing methodology. All the collected blood samples have already been transferred to Denmark for human genome analysis and we look forward to the results of this analysis with great interest.
Another important part of our work includes monitoring of effectiveness and side effects among patients with HIV/HCV co-infection receiving HCV treatment. This work is mainly done by the doctors working at the Vladivostok AIDS Centre.
Scientists from St. Petersburg, together with colleagues from Germany are working on the development and implementation of bioinformatics tools, primarily for the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the prevalence of which in Russia has taken on a significant scale. Doctors from Arkhangelsk have been working with scientists from London on the development of new methods for early diagnosis and monitoring tuberculosis treatment effectiveness.
Can CARE project help in addressing HIV, HCV and TB epidemics in Russia and Europe?
There is no doubt that the results of the project will be of great interest to both. They are especially important for Russia since the growth rate of these socially significant diseases in our country requires an immediate response from the health care system.
However, in order for the study results to become the basis for the introduction of new approaches and methodologies in the current HIV, HCV and TB treatment and prevention programs they must be brought to the attention of people making decisions, that is ministries of health, science and other governing organizations, This is very difficult, but we will work on this.
Do you plan to continue your collaboration with the project partners in the future?
First, we would like to continue the work we started because I believe it is obvious for all the participants that we have only just begun our journey and we need to follow it to the end.
Second, we are currently looking for new opportunities to support our future collaboration and will use all the available opportunities. We wish to express our gratitude to our European colleagues and project coordinator Francesca Incardona for their efforts to help make our plans a reality.