Director of Data Management Center Reflects on Nearly Two Decades of Research

Dec 16, 2015

Meet Marlene Cooper

Marlene Cooper, M.S., has been involved in clinical trials data management and related research for 19 years.  She started her work in the field of HIV/AIDS in 1996 as a Project Coordinator for the Ryan White Care Act HIV Needs Assessment for Northeast Ohio while working on her Masters degree in Epidemiology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.  Working in the community, she became interested in the relationship between perceived susceptibility and risk behaviors as well as the need for programs to target underserved populations. Her initial introduction to clinical trials was as a Research Assistant at the Tuberculosis Research Unit at Case Western. However, it was when she relocated back to New York State, where she is originally from, that Marlene began her career at Frontier Science and Technology Research Foundation (FSTRF) focusing exclusively on clinical trials data.  Fast forward nearly twenty years to last December when Marlene was promoted to the position of Director of the ACTG Network Data Management Center at FSTRF.

In addition to her duties as the Director of the ACTG Data Management Center, Marlene is also the Director of Data Management for the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials (IMPAACT) Network Data Management Center at FSTRF. She is responsible for all data management activities for both networks and ensures that dedicated clinical and laboratory data management, information technology, database operations and programming resources are available for research.  Marlene notes one of the most rewarding aspects of the work she and her colleagues perform is that it often directly impacts treatment guidelines and advances the understanding of how and when to treat individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

“The results from ACTG clinical trials provide valuable information for clinicians regarding how to effectively manage HIV/AIDS, including co-infections, and gives insight into additional treatment options for hard to treat individuals,” said Marlene. “It’s humbling to think that I’ve played a small role in advancing the research by my work in support of these trials.”

Marlene considers the ACTG Network a second family to her in many ways and although she has worked in different roles and in different capacities over the years, her relationships with colleagues remains a constant. She has worked with Robert Coombs MD, PhD, ACTG Network Laboratory Principal Investigator, University of Washington, Seattle, since first starting at FSTRF and considers him not only a colleague, but a good friend.

“I enjoy all the relationships I have made with investigators, laboratory staff, protocol teams and other members of the HIV/AIDS research community,” said Marlene. “My relationship with Dr. Coombs in particular has allowed me to continue to foster my interest in the science of infectious diseases and specifically HIV infection, and how the virus hides in the body, mutates and avoids eradication.”

Over the years, Marlene has seen a significant shift in technology at FSTRF.  With the move to the internet and cloud-based technology, she has seen the introduction of more commercial software solutions for data management.  At FSTRF, they are constantly looking to improve efficiency and make data more easily and readily available to ACTG Network investigators and statisticians.  In fact, they are currently in the process of transitioning to a commercial Clinical Trials Data Management System for clinical sites, so this is an exciting time for FSTRF and the ACTG Network.

 “Marlene brought to this effort an in-depth understanding of our work garnered through her background in epidemiology, and the knowledge and experience she gained over her 20 years in this field,” said Gregory Pavlov, President and Chief Executive Officer, Frontier Science and Technology Research Foundation. “Coupled with her innate understanding of computing and database concepts and technologies, and her outstanding organizational and communications skills, Marlene has proved to be the ideal person to lead this project that is critical to the long term success of our company.”

In the future, Marlene plans to continue her work advancing clinical trials data management with new technology and providing high quality data to answer the research questions posed by ACTG Network researchers. She notes that she has learned patience, persistence and hard work pays off and it is exciting to see how far the field has come in the past twenty years; nevertheless, there is still much work to do to expand treatment access and identify a cure.  

Marlene also has a closing message to others who work in the field of data management:

“Keep up the exceptional work!  Accurate and quality data collection is critical to the success of our clinical trials and the valuable research conducted across the ACTG Network. The work you perform on a daily basis provides critical information that will help bring us one step closer to a cure for HIV.”