2018 Researcher of the Year Basmattee Boodram
Basmattee Boodram is an epidemiologist whose attention is focused on some of the greatest public health challenges facing the U.S.: substance abuse and infectious disease.
“Since 1997, even before my Ph.D., I’ve been on the front lines of people who inject drugs, particularly young people,” said Boodram, an associate professor in the School of Public Health. “The bulk of my current work is focused on trying to examine the new generation of young people who initiate injection drug use in the Midwest, predominantly heroin.”
She conducts her research with the Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP), based in her college, where she unpacks what experts need to know about drug users.
Her most current work, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health – National Institute of Drug Abuse, looks closely at the people from suburban or rural areas who inject drugs, a population that is different from previously studied groups, who were predominantly nonwhite and urban.
“It’s really trying to understand some of the social network, geographic stigma-related issues and social norms of this new generation of young people who initiate into injection drug use,” she said.
The interplay of those factors could help identify what drives the incidence and transmission of hepatitis C virus, which causes liver inflammation and affects 2.4 million people in the U.S. Although curable, it is still a major cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and the need for a liver transplant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the disease spreads through blood contact, people who inject drugs are not only more prone to infection, they are also a major cause of HCV transmission.
Knowing this, Boodram has put her knowledge to practice, ready to tackle the HCV spike. In collaboration with the Federal Drug Administration and later NIH, she’s used thirty years of data from the COIP for an agent-based computational model, or predictive modeling that can identify patterns of HCV transmission. It will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
“It would be a free, open-source model that people can use to evaluate the impact of different interventions and combinations of interventions, things like treatment coupled with syringe exchange programs and hepatitis C testing, strategies that can help individual communities address the epidemic,” Boodram said.
Her dedication to the field has led to other notable achievements, such as publishing a paper that shows how to impact HCV incidence; establishing a multidisciplinary Center for Modeling and Analysis of Treatments and Interventions; and developing the first HCV-focused case management program to address barriers to HCV treatment uptake among people who inject drugs, a program which the CDC has integrated in their largest HCV elimination initiative.
The list goes on with more than $19 million in grants — and there’s likely no end to that high-impact work in sight.
“My overarching drive in research is to immediately translate my research into interventions, and to do that myself,” Boodram said. “ That’s my ultimate goal.”