Mentoring Comes Full Circle: ACTG Mentee Becomes the Mentor

Jun 18, 2015

Meet Timothy Wilkin, MD

Timothy Wilkin, MD, MPH, is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Weill Cornell Medical College and also serves as the Cornell-Chelsea Clinical Research Site Leader and Chair of the ACTG Co-Infections and Malignancy Working Group. Dr. Wilkin has been with the ACTG Network since 2003 and credits his decision to focus on HIV/AIDS research to Michael Para, MD, Professor of Infectious Disease at The Ohio State University who inspired him during his medical school training.

“Dr. Para had a tremendous impact on my decision to focus my career on HIV/AIDS. During my first year of medical school he invited one of his patients with HIV, who was also an activist, to speak to my class,” said Wilkin. “She opened my eyes to the rampant stigma that HIV-infected individuals encountered and she impressed me with all that she did to enlighten her community while living with advanced AIDS. That was the starting point for me.”

During his clinical years in medical school, Dr. Wilkin was a witness to the dramatic change in the way people living with HIV were cared for as HIV protease inhibitors and combination therapy entered clinical practice.  He feels fortunate to have worked with Dr. Para and his patients to see firsthand how those therapies helped to change their lives.  At the same time, Tim also had a major impact on some of his mentors as well.

“While in medical school, Tim was one of those great students who have an idea, the motivation to carry it out and the work ethic to see it to completion. When the fourth year student curriculum was changing in Tim’s senior year, he asked to develop a month long elective on the long term care of the HIV-infected patient who spoke to his class.  He organized the course, set-up the daily activities, the readings and the evaluation,” said Dr. Para. “I actually still use much of the course material he generated for that month long course. I think that shows just how passionate he was with regard to HIV/AIDS care and research, even during medical school.”

Dr. Wilkin has participated in nine ACTG protocol teams (including eight as Protocol Chair or Vice-Chair) during his tenure with the ACTG Network.  He led the development of AMC052/ACTG A5246, a clinical trial that established the safety and immunogenicity of the quadrivalent HPV vaccine in HIV-infected men.  Currently, he is the Study Chair of two ongoing clinical trials: A5298 and A5282.  A5298 is a phase III trial of the quadrivalent HPV vaccine in HIV-infected men and women.  This study is the first randomized efficacy study of the HPV vaccine in HIV-infected adults and will be the first to examine the efficacy of the vaccine in a highly HPV-exposed population.   

Dr. Wilkin developed A5282 alongside his collaborator, Cindy Firnhaber, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Director Clinical HIV Research Unit University of Witwatersrand.  Together, they were able to secure support from a NIAID/PEPFAR collaboration to help cover expensive infrastructure costs.  Cervical cancer prevention is a new area of research for many of the participating A5282 sites.  

“Dr. Firnhaber has had an amazing impact on the care of women with HIV in South Africa,” said Wilkin. “She has led efforts to implement cervical cancer screening services for tens of thousands of HIV-infected women.  She has a wonderful team with whom I am fortunate to collaborate.”  

Dr. Wilkin was also last year’s recipient of the Wofsy Award given to investigators who are active in the care of HIV-positive women and for researching questions important to women living with HIV.

“It was a complete shock; I had no idea that I won the award until they announced my name,” said Wilkin.  “It is a tremendous honor and I am very proud to be included with the list of previous awardees.”

Tim also believes that being on an ACTG protocol team or ACTG scientific committee places him in the company of highly experienced clinical researchers and world-class scientists who are shaping the way care is provided for people living with HIV.  The established investigators he has worked with over the years have taught him a great deal about how to conduct successful, high-quality clinical trials.

To make his journey from medical student to ACTG Principle Investigator come full circle, Dr. Wilkin has recently begun mentoring younger investigators and he hopes to share all of his years of experience with them. 

“I enjoy working with younger investigators to develop their careers in clinical research,” said Wilkin. “In addition to the joy of seeing their success, these relationships are invigorating my research efforts and are leading to exciting new collaborations.”