The dry erase board in Cheryl Keenan’s office at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is filled with lists of letters and numbers. Each combination represents an HIV research study being conducted by either industry or the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network. Keenan is the site’s sole research nurse. She manages roughly 20 HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) clinical trials, and the dry erase board helps her keep everything straight.
“Without research there cannot be a cure,” Keenan says.
After working for 15 years in the intensive care unit (ICU), she made the switch four years ago to infectious diseases research. Keenan sees people living with HIV who have enrolled in one of the ACTG’s studies being conducted at the Brigham and Women’s site. She check patients’ vital signs, draws blood and ensures they are not experiencing any negative side effects from the study’s medications.
Paul Sax, MD, is the Clinical Research Site Leader of the ACTG’s Brigham and Women’s location.
“Cheryl came to us with extensive experience in cardiovascular disease research, which has been invaluable for several of our ACTG studies,” says Sax. “She already had a great understanding of cardiovascular issues, and then quickly learned the HIV- and hepatitis C virus-specific treatments as well. One of the consistent things I have heard from our study subjects ever since she joined our team is how compassionate and caring she is, even in the context of research. Many of them consider her like a primary care provider, as she’s is their first and major contact with our clinic!”
Keenan says the population of study participants she sees in Boston is diverse. Although she sees more men than women, she knows there are women living with HIV in the area and she makes an extra effort to reach out to them.
“I have a wonderful relationship with all of my patients,” Keenan says. “I know them well and they know me well. I think they know that they can reach out to me day or night for anything. Listening, really listening to people and doing what you can based on their needs is what I love to do.”
Keenan discusses with her study participants what other clinical trials they would like to see the ACTG develop. Cure research is the response she hears most often.
“Cure studies do require more personal time and commitment from our patients to get these more intensive studies completed,” Keenan says. “I have a few very committed individuals willing to take on more time consuming studies because they know we cannot have results without their time and commitment. They are very important to HIV research. I have many of my patients enrolled in the ACTG’s A5322 study investigating HIV and aging. They are all eager to contribute to science in one way or another. Many of my patients are involved in research because they just want to give back. They may not have much free time, but they still participate.”
When she is not seeing patients at the ACTG’s Brigham and Women’s site, Keenan can be found spending time with her two children and husband. She also relaxes with a walk along the shore.
“If I have free time, you can usually find me on the beach with my yellow labs,” she says. “But don’t worry, I can still answer my email.”