Clinical Trials Specialist Combines Passion for Research with Desire to Help Others

Jan 30, 2017

Chanelle Houston is a Clinical Trials Specialist (CTS) at the ACTG Network Coordinating Center, a division of Social and Scientific Systems (SSS) in Silver Spring, MD.  She has been interested in HIV research since her senior year in college when she took an internship at FIGHT Philadelphia, an HIV/AIDS clinic in the heart of the city.  In addition to her responsibilities of gathering data from patient charts to input for analysis, Chanelle also had the unique opportunity to shadow one of the doctors at the clinic when seeing patients.  After college, Chanelle was accepted for a service year with the National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps Program in Washington, DC. There she worked at The Women’s Collective conducting HIV testing, education and outreach in the District’s most affected neighborhoods. She says these experiences are what developed her passion for the HIV field.

“Back in 2006 when I first started my internship at FIGHT Philadelphia, only about one third of the antiretroviral drugs available today were options for those diagnosed with HIV,” said Chanelle. “Now, many of the drugs used 10 years ago are no longer or rarely prescribed and there are now several combination pills available. It is amazing to think how far HIV treatment has come and it is a testament to the advances being made in HIV research.”

Chanelle is not just passionate about HIV research, she is also is keenly interested in research surrounding spinal cord injuries. In 2009, she suffered a spinal cord injury which led her to quickly become involved in education and research about the topic.  In addition, Chanelle chose to take part in clinical trials available for individuals living with spinal cord injuries. While there still is no cure for spinal cord paralysis, Chanelle remains encouraged by all of the research currently being conducted.

“I find quite a few parallels between spinal cord injuries and HIV and my message to both of these communities is similar,” said Chanelle. “While there still is no cure, do not give up and try to stay engaged as much as you can in the research, education and participating in clinical trials to help reach the ultimate goal of developing a cure for both conditions.”

Chanelle’s love for others and her desire to help people is what she believes connects her work with her personal life. The work she performs within the ACTG Network when developing clinical trials is ultimately a service to those living with HIV and a commemoration to those who have passed.  Similarly, her love for others is why chose to be a peer mentor at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, DC for new spinal cord injury patients. There Chanelle serves as a positive resource for patients as they rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community with a spinal cord injury.

In the office, her duties as a CTS are to facilitate the development of a protocol throughout various stages of implementation at clinical research sites in both domestic and international settings.  Chanelle notes that to be effective as a CTS, a person needs to be extremely organized, pay close attention to detail and be very patient.  Vicki Stocker, Clinical Science Group Manager at the ACTG Network Coordinating Center believes Chanelle possesses all of those skills and more.

“Chanelle is an employee that every manager loves to have on a team.  Not only does she have a contagious, positive attitude, she is very dedicated to her work and learns quickly,” said Vicki. “In the nine plus years that she has been here, it has been such a pleasure watching her excel in her former position as a Committee Coordinator and take the same rapid upward trajectory in her role as a CTS.   Simply put, Chanelle is a pleasure to work with.”

Protocol A5360 (MINMON Study) is (so far) her favorite study because it is one of a kind in the hepatitis field incorporating the minimal monitoring of participants with hepatitis C.  She is working on developing this A5360 with fellow CTS, Jennifer Tiu and is also currently working on Protocol A5343 (Bedaquiline Delamanid Study) with fellow CTS, Laura Moran.  In addition to Jennifer and Laura, Chanelle also very much enjoys working with Linda Naini, who is also a CTS and was her first manager, as well as her office mate Andrea White who is a Committee Coordinator.

“There are so many wonderful people I work with; I wish I could list them all. Everyone at SSS has helped me to understand that clinical trial research involves so many people working on various aspects who all contribute to the overall success of a trial,” said Chanelle. “This has taught me the valuable lesson of being patient and learning to work with others who may have a different process. I love that! It is one of the reasons I enjoy attending  ACTG Network meetings as that is when everyone involved in the Network comes together to discuss the research, the challenges and the future of the HIV field.”

In her spare time, Chanelle enjoys swimming, crocheting, traveling, and mentoring others who have suffered spinal cord injuries. In particular, swimming has always been a passion and after she was injured in 2009, she was not sure if she would be able to get back into the pool to swim without the use of her legs. Through a disability swim clinic she attended in 2013, Chanelle discovered a whole new world of Paralympic Swimming. Over the past two years, she has trained six days a week with the goal of competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While she swam five events at trials for the games last summer and finished in third place in three events, alas she did not make the team. However, that did not deter her one bit as she continues to swim and compete to this day.

Chanelle has some pretty lofty goals for the future and we have no doubt she is on her way to achieving them:

“In the future I see myself traveling the world as a motivational speaker and sharing my book that I plan to write.  It is my hope that I can encourage others to live life to the fullest no matter the challenges placed before them.”

Thanks for the inspiring words, Chanelle!