Adam Akullian is a postdoctoral researcher with Intellectual Ventures’ Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM). A National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship recipient, Adam is currently focused on mathematical and epidemiological modeling of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, with the goal of informing effective public health interventions. We met with Adam recently to discuss what brought him to IDM, his hopes for the future, and how collecting snails in China convinced him to pursue a Ph.D. in Epidemiology.
What are you currently working on at IDM?
I am closing in on my first year of work with the HIV team at IDM, having recently received my Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Washington. My background is in infectious disease epidemiology and geo-spatial analysis. At IDM, I’m helping the team gather data from regions of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest HIV burden and incidence. We’re using a mathematical model developed by my colleagues at IDM to simulate the potential impact of different interventions on the HIV epidemic. For example, we might ask, would a behavioral invention (like promoting condom use) or a biomedical intervention (like expanding access to antiretroviral therapy or increasing uptake of Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC)) prevent the most new infections? And, which groups should we target for these interventions?
How did you decide to pursue epidemiology?
I started out in the natural sciences at Brown University and got a job through UC Berkeley collecting snails in China. These tiny snails live in the ditches of rice farming villages in rural communities and transmit Schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease in humans that infects millions of people globally. It was a disease ecology project to understand how environmental change might expand the geographic habitat of the snail population and how that would drive disease spread in the region.
It was at that intersection of ecology, infectious disease, and geography that I really found a passion for public health and saw epidemiology as almost a natural fit for me. Once I completed my Ph.D., IDM was a great opportunity for me because it values multidisciplinary thinking.
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