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My Journey to Global Oral Health and HIV/AIDS research

Yan Wang I am Yan Wang. I was born in China with a great passion for numbers. My undergraduate major is Mathematics, with a double major in Computer Science. I received my PhD in Biostatistics of School of Public Health at UCLA in 2019. My research passion is the joint research of HIV and oral health.

Measuring instrumentMy passion in HIV/AIDS research started from a multi-site adherence collaboration in HIV across sixteen studies from fourteen universities and institutions. With the opportunity to collaborated with all world well-known scientists, I was responsible for coordinating the data transfer, data management, statistical analysis as well as modeling and publications. We used Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMS®) to record the date and time medication events. In the later project, we used Wisepill® box (designed by a South African company), and then Ingestible Sensor (Proteus) to measure HIV adherence in real-time, together with customized text messages. It was very challenging to have optimal adherence lifetime, as it is hard to maintain the optimal adherence.

tooth drawinghandwritten paper

Meanwhile, long-term ART and HIV-infection have great impact on oral health. We found that the measures on overall oral health status and treatment needs was very limited. We used the approach of PROMIS (patient reported outcome measurement information system) to design a psychometric validated survey to measure children’s oral health status and treatment needs with a smaller number of questions using Item Response Theory and Machine learning algorithms. To further understanding the oral health of children, we conducted the oral health screening in Los Angeles County. The screening included screening for the prevalence of untreated decay, caries, and the treatment needs of kindergarteners and third graders in seventy-three public elementary schools. We luckily finished all screening activities before the pandemic. During the field work, we learned there are oral health disparities in children, even before they start school.

Museum frontI received my T37 GATHER (Global Alliance for Training in Health Equity Research) fellowship in 2019. This fellowship supported my research in African Population Health Research Center (APHRC) in Nairobi, Kenya. I made a lot of friends with the researchers in Kenya. During that time, I learned of the work of both Drs. Ana Lucia Seminario and Arthur Kemoli. I joint their research team on the CHOMP (Children’s Healthy Oral Management Project) among HIV-infected children, the oral health of refugee children Washington State, and the infant oral mutilation traditional practice in East Africa. Since then, we have started an ongoing collaboration. After my GATHER training, I received my T32 UCLA postdoctoral fellowship in 2020, focused on Global AIDS prevention. I joint Dr. Grace Aldrovandi’s research team in 2020. I was very fortunate to participate in the COVID study of high-risk health services workers at UCLA and first responders in the Los Angeles County Fire Department. We compared the humoral responses to mRNA vaccine by prior infection and by vaccine type.

Now more than ever, with the burden of two pandemics, both HIV and SARS-CoV-2, it is critical to study global health, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Through my journey, I found my passion in the joint area of research of HIV/AIDS and oral health in the global setting. This motivated me to further investigate bacteria and virus in the oral environment, especially among HIV-infected individuals, whose immune systems are extremely vulnerable.

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