CFAR Leadership Highlight: Clinical Core Associate Director Dr. Dorothy Dow

Dr. Dow first came to Duke as a Pediatric Infectious Disease fellow and graduate student in the Master of Science in Global Health program. As a fellow, she traveled to Moshi, Tanzania and worked on a project researching prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). Despite the success of that work, Dr. Dow noticed a discrepancy between the success they had seen in graduating HIV uninfected infants from the project and seeing adolescents with HIV in her clinical practice:

“When I was working clinically, a lot of the work in PMTCT resulted in success, that babies were not being infected. We were getting to graduate them as being HIV uninfected. But then, when I was seeing adolescents, they were quite ill, many of them, and many died. It just seemed so tragic that we were able to keep them alive until adolescence, and then we were somehow failing them.”

This experience caused Dr. Dow to switch gears and, through a CFAR Small Grant, begin to explore the mental health challenges that Tanzanian adolescents with HIV faced. “Adherence was a real challenge: if you don’t really see a bright future or a point in living, then why take your medicine? That was a really big elephant that seemed to be in the clinical space that wasn’t being addressed.” Dr. Dow credits the CFAR Small Grant for the ability to lay the foundations for a K1 award, for which she developed a mental health intervention – incorporating cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy – for adolescents with HIV and their caregivers.

Most recently, Dr. Dow has received an R01 to scale up the 12-week intervention developed during the K award. She credits the CFAR Small Grant as being “the seed that started everything off” and recognizes the support from Drs. Kathy Sikkema (former SBS Core Director) and Melissa Watt (former SBS Core Associate Director) as particularly instrumental to her success.

“I wasn’t funded on the first round of the CFAR Small Grant, and a couple of members from the SBS Core reached out and really helped me shape the grant so that it was more competitive in the next round.”

In addition to the SBS Core, Dr. Dow received mentorship from former Clinical Core leadership, Drs. John Bartlett and Coleen Cunningham. She has recently stepped into Dr. Cunningham’s former role as Associate Director. She highlights the importance of having support throughout one’s career, noting, “For those who don’t have a laser-focused vision on exactly what they want to do, finding a good mentor is the key, and having a mentor who’s really going to support and believe in you is critical. I think without that, it’s incredibly difficult to be successful as an academic researcher, and especially as a clinical scientist.”