Krystle Luna’s first taste of a career in research occurred in high school. She participated in a program at the University of Texas Houston that allowed her to shadow physicians at the medical school.
“I loved watching the doctors interact with their research patients,” Luna recalls. “I was drawn to research, but knew I didn’t want to spend all day in a lab. I wanted to interact with patients.”
Her career has come full circle as she now works at the site that first introduced her to the research profession. Luna is a Senior Research Assistant at the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network’s Houston AIDS Research Team Clinical Research Site at the University of Texas Houston. She holds a degree in human biology with concentrations in immunology and pathology. Luna’s first job out of school involved conducting behavioral science research. After working on a smoking cessation program for people living with HIV, Luna knew she wanted to become further involved with this population.
“I wanted to do more to help people living with HIV,” she says. “My colleagues and I at the HIV health clinic were very close and they let me know about the opening at the ACTG site.”
Luna says the Houston ACTG site serves mainly African American women and men who have sex with men. Most site staff speak English and Spanish. As a Senior Research Assistant, Luna sees patients on study. In this capacity, she learns about all of the ACTG studies open at her site from trials exploring inflammation to protocols investigating the HIV and human papilloma virus (HPV) co-infection.
“Getting to work on so many studies means there is always something new to learn. I am exponentially growing,” Luna says. “And everyone at the site really cares about our study participants. People go above and beyond their roles. We are all working together on the shared vision of improving the lives of people living with HIV.”
Roberto Arduino, MD, serves as the Houston Clinical Research Site Leader.
“In addition to truly caring for her patients, Krystle brings a joy and enthusiasm to work that is contagious,” says Arduino. “It is always a pleasure to work with her.”
During recent committee elections, Luna applied for and became a member of the ACTG’s Outreach, Recruitment and Retention (OR&R) subcommittee. This group assists study teams with designing materials to publicize an enrolling trial. OR&R also encourages site staff to honor study participants each December marking the anniversary of the first person to enroll in a Network protocol.
“Krystle is a very motivated and resourceful researcher. She is a vital member of our team,” says Maria Martinez, the Houston site’s Clinical Research Coordinator. “And we were very grateful when she decided to participate in the OR&R subcommittee since she is naturally a “people-person;” she is somebody who can connect and communicate with people living with HIV and understand what they need and what we can offer to them from our research team.”
Since Luna interacts with study participants regularly, she listens to their concerns and shares a few ideas about trials she hopes the ACTG will include on its scientific agenda.
“We see a lot of patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV so further research into this co-infection is important,” says Luna. “Our clinic also treats a big minority population including women and the Hispanic community. Letting them know about studies they are eligible for ensures that everyone is benefiting from HIV research.”
When she is not working at the Houston site, Luna can be found attending concerts in the Houston area and enjoying the city’s culinary scene. A Houston native, Luna makes time for family members who live nearby, especially her young goddaughter.
“She just learned to walk so we are having fun together,” Luna says.