Researcher Tackles TB in India

Jan 01, 1970

As a child, Amita Gupta, MD, witnessed infectious diseases firsthand while visiting extended family in India.

“I spent summers in India and saw the effects of polio, hepatitis B, tuberculosis and malaria,” she says. “Then when I was in college, I was galvanized by the world of HIV activism. I found myself more and more interested in working on HIV, volunteering at AIDS Action and Fenway Health in Boston. I later worked on HIV/AIDS at the Massachusetts Health Department.”

Once in medical school, Gupta’s interests gravitated toward HIV and global health. She completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco just when combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) started being prescribed.

“We noted a marked decrease in admissions at San Francisco General Hospital for opportunistic infections related to HIV,” Gupta says. “I then spent two years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) working on the Epidemic Intelligence Service and diarrheal disease outbreaks. Wanting to return to an academic university setting and work in India, I landed a wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. Bob Bollinger at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He was leading India’s first phase 3 prevention of mother to child HIV transmission trial also known as the Six Weeks Extended Nevirapine (SWEN) trial.”

The SWEN trial became the basis for the World Health Organization (WHO) prophylaxis guidance for HIV-exposed breastfed infants. In 2004, Gupta was introduced to two National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded HIV research networks – the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG) Network and the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN). Currently, she is the Co-Principal Investigator for the ACTG’s Baltimore, Washington and India Clinical Trials Unit, which includes sites at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Whitman Walker Health in Washington, D.C., and B.J. Medical College in Pune, India.

“I teach and mentor medical students, residents and infectious diseases fellows at Johns Hopkins University,” says Gupta. “I also facilitate research and educational experiences for trainees and faculty interested in the research of tuberculosis (TB), HIV and other infectious diseases, particularly in India.”

Charles Flexner is the Co-Principal Investigator of the ACTG’s Baltimore, Washington and India Clinical Trials Unit.

“Amita is a charismatic leader who is committed to improving women’s health domestically and internationally,” Flexner says.

In India, Gupta says the HIV epidemic is concentrated among migrants, truckers, sex workers and injection drug users. Gupta says she has been proud to work on two TB studies at the site. Richard Chaisson, MD, leads the ACTG’s Tuberculosis Transformative Science Group and works at the ACTG Johns Hopkins site with Gupta.

“Amita has an understanding of TB that is like no other investigator,” says Chaisson. “She knows the disease clinically in unique populations, like pregnant women and children, but she also has a great understanding of the science underlying its pathogenesis and is leading truly translational research to develop better methods for controlling the TB-HIV co-epidemic.”

To get the word out about the work being done at the B.J. Medical College site in India, Gupta credits the site’s Community Advisory Board or CAB. Each ACTG site has a CAB made up of members of the local community who are infected or affected by HIV. They provide researchers with feedback about studies and educate the local community about the ACTG and HIV.

“We have an amazing CAB and they are an integral part of our work at the site,” Gupta says. “Our CAB helps us decide what priorities to pursue and helps us determine how to optimize recruitment and retention in ACTG studies.”

Gupta is also an active researcher with the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials (IMPAACT) group. Her primary research interest with IMPAACT is the tuberculosis and HIV co-infection in pregnant women.

When she is not working at the ACTG’s Johns Hopkins or B.J. Medical College sites, Gupta enjoys traveling, dancing, watching movies and spending time with family and friends.